August 01, 2011 GMT
28/7 - Finally, the trip starts

The weather is fine and my bags are packed. A few trips downstairs and I can begin loading all my stuff on the Family Truckster. Pannier inner bags provided a bit of a struggle but everything is on now and I'm ready to go.

A quick detour west to meet my new travel companion Aussie Joe - running a few minutes late but not a drama for getting to Folsktone for the train to Calais.

We arrive right on schedule and have no problems checking in. Before we know it the train is leaving.

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We are headed to Leuven in Belgium (home of Stella Artois) mostly on motorways today. A little boring but good for getting out of western Europe. Fairly uneventful but did include a stop to refuel ourselves. By mid afternoon we arrive at our lodgings for the evening (a very good choice by Aussie Joe). Close to everything, very comfortable and a knowledgable host. A good base to explore this university town and its amenties.

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Exploring Leuven was thirstly work and we quickly found a suitable establishment to partake of some of the local amber fluid.

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Another walk around town before dinner revealed more of Leuven's architectural highlights.

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Moules and Frites for dinner and then another gentle stroll back to the hotel before having an early night.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 05:03 PM GMT
29/7 - Leuven to Rothenburg

I'm feeling refreshed after a good night's sleep and an excellent continental breakfast.

Bikes packed and AJ and I go our separate ways for the day, planning to meet up again in a few days.

I head off east on the motorway towards the German border but a missed turn takes me past the Stella Artois brewery before I'm back on course. A quick stop for lunch at Adenau - spare ribs from a well kitted out mobile vendor,

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followed by German cake and coffee

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No time to look around as I have many miles to cover today, so back on the bike and off I go.

I encounter some rain on the way to Wertheim, causing me to stop and put the wet weather gear on. Luckily the rain did not last for long and I was soon able to remove my mobile sauna. I made it to Wertheim around 1700 and stopped to stretch my legs and reflesh for the next stint. Looks like there is going to be a big festival/party in the old town over the weekend. Lots of temporary bars, foodstalls and stages for bands.

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While enjoying an espresso I chatted with a couple of Aussies from Rockhampton who were mid way through a European tour.

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Always good to hear an Aussie accent and seems we can be found almost anywhere - you don't even have to look hard to find us.

Back on the road around 1800 hoping to make some good time for another 100 miles. Great roads and perfect riding conditions but my progress was thwarted by roadworks and detours.

By 1930 I'd had enough riding for the day and decided to find somewhere to stay the night in Rothenburg. Trip Advisor was consulted and I was soon on my way to a hotel in the old walled city.

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After checking in and unloading the Family Truckster I head out to explore the old city. There are many cities like this in Europe but wach is still fascinating and I never tire of seeing them.

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Total miles today 411 (661km), cumulative 671 (1,080km).

Posted by Brett from Oz at 06:32 PM GMT
30/7 - Rothenburg to Prague

I was hoping to make an earlier start today so I packed my kit up and prepared to check out of the hotel only to be advised that breakfast was included in the overnight rate.

No point leaving on an empty stomach so I settlde down in the restuarant for a coffee and some pastries. No sooner had I sat down when someone enquired in their best German of my ability to speak English so he could ask me a few questions about my motorbike (I had all my riding kit on).

Another Aussie couple travelling through Europe - so we chatted about Australia, motorbikes and where we'd been and going to for a while.

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It was another 170 miles from Rothernburg to Klatovy (Czech Republic) to make up the shortfall from yesterday. This was in addition to the 241miles originally planned for today, taking in some historic sights in the Czech Republic.

I finally got going and had a few motorway miles to do first up in order to make it to the Czech border. Almost as soon as I made it over the border it started to rain lightly. Not wanting to get my riding kit soaked I pulled over in a small town and pulled on the wet weather gear. This proved to be a good move even though I was thinking the rain wouldn't last that long or be too heavy.

The change from Germany to the Czech Republic was very noticeable and extreme. The B roads were quite poorly surfaced and all the signs (advertising, place names and road signage) was unfamiliar. But the first time new country for me so I was excited.

By the time I reached Klatovy the rain had well and truly set in for the day. I stopped for some soup at a cafe/bar on the plaza and planed my next move.

My planned "scenic" route was another 241 miles and the GPS was showing this would take nearly 6 hours in good conditions. With the conditions suitable for neither riding or sight-seeing it was a simple decision. Another motorway slog to make to Prague in the shortest time and safest route possible.

A quick look around Klatovy's plaza for some photos.

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I couldn't put it off any longer so I put all my kit back on, took it easy on the motorway and made it to the hotel in Prague mid afternoon - looking like a drowned rat but at least dry on the inside and with dry luggage. AJ beat me there by 15 mins and was already enjoying his welcome beer from Kristina our host for the next few nights.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 08:10 PM GMT
August 02, 2011 GMT
31/7 &1/8 - Stopover in Prague

When touring by motorcycle it is a luxury to stay more than one night at the same place. The constant packing, loading the bike arriving at the next hotel, checking in, unloading the gear and carrying it to your room can become a bit tedius. Each night the following comes off the bike:

- left side pannier inner bag with laptop, maps, travel guide books and plugs/cables
- waterproof roll bag (this sits on the back seat of the bike) with my clothes etc
- camera bag from the top box
- GoPro video camera and mount from where ever it has been mounted for the last few rides of the day (this usually goes inside the camera bag so I have less things to carry)
- helmet (to charge up the bluetooth headset)

Of late I've also been taking the GPS off so I can download my tracks for a more permanent record of where I've been.

If it has been raining I may also need to bring in my wet weather gear to allow it to dry out properly before packing away again for another rainy day.

About the only thing that stays on the bike is the left pannier inner bag which contains some tools (don't know what I would do with these if the bike broke down anyway!), a puncture repair kit and 12v tyre pump, some cable ties and duct tape.

The challenge at the end of a long day in the saddle is to get all this stuff into your hotel room in one trip. It is possible but not without a struggle.

With two whole days in Prague and no luggage to repack and reload, my biggest worry was where to leave the bike. At the recommendation of Kristina from the hotel, and following much nervousness on my part, the bike was left in the open air car park oppostite the bus station. At least there was some shelter that the bike would fit under to keep it out of the rain. I was assured the car park was manned 24hrs a day and the bike would be left within view of the attendent. Reluctantly I parked up the bike, activated the central locking (yes my bike does have this - activated from the key fob) and turned on the alarm. I said goodbye to it on Saturday afternoon - planning only to return on Tuesday morning to pick it up and move it to the hotel so it was handy for the morning loading routine.

This is how it looked when I left it.

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Anyway, no point worrying about it now. Can't watch it all day - and always trust the advice of locals. Unless of course the locals are part of a motorbike scam!

Fingers crossed it is still there on Tuesday morning when I need it again.

Of the two full days I had in Prague I spent Sunday wandering around the tourist areas. On Monday I stayed in the hotel and caught up on emails and got this blog up to date (only got the go ahead from Grant of HU the previous day).

The thing about Prague and other great or iconic cities like it is there is just no view of this city that hasn't already been photographed. Many before me have worked all the angles and photographed the wonderful buildings, bridges, monuments, statues and streets much better than I ever could. Nonetheless it was good to wander around this city I have heard much about and never before visited.

Before I conclude with a some of the typical tourist snaps of this wonderful city, I would like to share one photo which you may have never seen of Prague before. It is my favourite photo from Prague.

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And so on with the other shots that many will recognise. Maybe I should have spent more time wandering around but I did get to watch the F1 GP in Paddy's Bar with a bunch of Irishmen - and it was a very good race!

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Posted by Brett from Oz at 10:02 PM GMT
2/8 - Prague to Dolny Kubin

Up early to pack and the weather is looking promising. After two days off the bike I'm looking forward to putting in some miles again today. It could be a long day if I make it to Slovakia as planned. But I want to see some Czech towns on the way to my overnight stop in the Tatra Mountains.

Everything is charged up - helmet, phones, camera, GoPro HD etc so time to pack everything away and take a few items at a time downstairs where it can wait while I go and get the bike.

It's a nice sunny morning and at around 0730am as I walk around the corner to get my bike out of the carpark - it's still there with no dramas. Always trust local advice.

A short drive back to the hotel and I'll park it up outside on the pavement while I have breakfast and load it up.

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I say farewell to our host, Katrina, of the past couple of days. Her advice and knowledge of Prague have been great - plus she speaks about 5 languages fluently (I am so envious of this).

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I bid farewell to AJ and we exchange our individual plans for the next few days. Likely we will catch up again in Poland. It's almost 0930 - time to leave now.

The routes were planned some time ago and are all loaded in the GPS. Today I'm planning to take my routes C2 and C3. C2 takes me west through the Czech Republic to Zamek Kromeriz and C3 from there to the Tatra Mountains in Slovakia - about 400 miles all up if I feel like going that far.

I recall some intersting towns were planned on the way - with minimal motorways.

First stop is in Kutna Hora, courtesy of the local police. Seems like about 10 other cars I've gone down a road that I shouldn't have. Very scenic though but I tell the officer I don't understand and I never saw any signs, honest. Off the bike and out with the license and passport - a good time for some photos too.

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Seems the combination of an international drivers license and Aussie passport are too much for the local law keepers so I was asked to move on - good result. I even got a police escort out of town (well there was a police car in front of me for a few miles - but this sounds way better). I saw more police around Kutna Hora than I had all the way there from London!

Some more miles covered and soon I'm arriving at the town/city of Litomysl. Looks interesting - maybe I'll stop here, take some photos and stretch my legs. I'm glad I did - see for yourself why.

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Back on the bike and some time later I arrive at Zamek Kromeriz. Again very interesting - but I feel like I missed the best bits of this city. That's the problem with high mileage days. Can't stay too long at any one place. Coffee, water, quick walk around, some photos and back on the road again. A bit like travel lottery - just have to cross your fingers that you get a couple of jackpots from all the miles travelled.

Anyway - here's the highlights of what I did see - let me know what I missed out on if you've been there.

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I left Zamek Kromeriz around 3pm with still a further 164 miles to get to the Tantra Mountains region of Slovakia. Seemed like I had only just made it to the Czech Republic and had thoroughly enjoyed my brief stay. But a new country beckoned.

It wasn't long before I was crossing the border into Slovenia - I hadn't expected the roads to be this good. Good weather, good (traffic free) roads and a great bike are all you can ask for on a trip like this. Good time was made in spite of a few wrong turns. Scenic too.

Got to my planned overnight stay (no bookings though) only to find they were booked out. Back on the bike and my inquiries at another 3 guesthouses by the lake yeilded no success. It's starting to get dark now and I'm getting hungry. This game of not knowing where you will spend each night is both exhilarating and stressful. But in the back of your mind you know something will always work out,

I stopped at another guesthouse this time a little further away from the lake. No accomodation available but I'm welcome to have something to eat in the restaurant. Good feed too - and good value.

I logged onto their WIFI and found a hotel room about 30 minutes away - so I booked it online. On settling my bill for dinner I was informed that the guesthouse
had a late cancellation and I could stay the night. I was devasted - this place looked great (see for yourselves) -

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and a beer would have really hit the spot after a long day!

Back on the bike and a 30 minute journey ends up taking 45 minutes thanks to another wrong turn (the GPS maps just don't match the roads in these less populated regions of Eastern Europe).

Finally at around 2030 I made it to the hotel in Dolny Kubin. Nothing memorable about this place on riding in other than that the circus was in town. Hotel was uninspiring but I had somewhere to stay. The only consolation was I had covered some of the next days journey - so an even shorter day tomorrow than the 160 miles planned.

Will have a walk around in the morning and check this place out some more - but here is the view from the hotel room

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Travelled today - 415 miles (668km). Cumulative - 1,336 miles (2,150km).

Posted by Brett from Oz at 10:29 PM GMT
August 03, 2011 GMT
3/8 - One of those days

It's easy to think now that if this is the worst I have to deal with on this trip then everything has gone well.

The breakfast at the hotel should have been a sign - but I did not heed it (cold mushroom half-an-egg omlette and soggy lettuce garnish).

A quick morning stroll around Dolny Kubin provided little inspiration for the day ahead. The hotel looked worse on the outside than it had from the inside.

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Maybe I should have stayed and gone to tonight's circus performance.

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But please don't get the wrong impression about Slovakia - maybe I just stumbled across one of its less spectacular towns. Most of everything else I saw and experienced was great - I just have no photos of the better parts (but plenty of HD video).

So less than 160 miles today north to Krakow via Auschwitz. If all goes well I'll be at Auschwitz just after lunch - visit the museum and be in Krokow late afternon and catch up again with AJ.

The route is programmed to keep me off the motorways as much as possible and off I go.

First couple of hours were fine and very enjoyable. Seemed like I'd hardly been riding any time and I crossed the border into Poland (another new country for me).

I'm ahead of the GPS ( ie should arrive in Auschwitz before the GPS suggested when I set off) and thinking about how I will spend the evening in Krakow.

It seems like there is plenty of logging in this part of Poland. I'm occasionally slowed down by trucks laden with freshly cut trees and there is much evidence of logging as I travel through the forest. There is a left turn coming up - as I prepare to make the turn I see a sign that looks like it says the road is closed. OK - I'll keep going straight and hopefully hook up further along. Ten minutes later the road is getting narrower and the surface poorer. But I'm headed in the right direction - so I keep going.

Around another bend and the gravel on the road turns into a gravel road. A no go zone for the Family Truckster. So I gingerly turn it around (not easy on a narrow road with a heavy bike) and head back.

Maybe that original road was not closed? Let's give that a go. Sadly I was wrong. My initial interpretation of Polish road signs was on the money. There is no way through here either so another 5 point turn beckons - made even harder by fact that half the road is covered with the dirt excavated from the section under repair.

So I back track even further - knowing I have to head north east to get to Auschwitz. Back on an A road now and there's a sign for Oswiecim - I think that is the Polish name for Auschwitz - so let's follow these signs. Good call. The GPS picks up the route again and I'm on my way.

But getting low on petrol now. The low fuel light is on and I have about 30 miles of petrol left. GPS is telling me to turn left. I look right and see a sign for a petrol station 500m to the tight right. I change the indicator and wait for the traffic to clear from both directions. I turn the handlebars a hard right and ease the bike forward ever so slightly preparing to take this very tight right turn.

And then the moment we all fear. Heavy bike, tight turn and slow speeds.

The bike starts to overbalance. Not now - not here!

I put my right foot down - more in hope than anything else - but prepared to jump off if I need to. No need to have it fall on me - I'd never get out from under it on my own.

But my leg holds it up. Unbelievable! I thought I'd dropped it.

Short haul to the petrol station now - time to have a break and get my breath back. That was so close - never been that close to dropping the Family Truckster before.

I refuel and park up the bike so I can get a coffee.

Twenty minites later and time to head to Auschwitz - not far from here - maybe another 30 minutes.

I walk out to my bike. What is that on my tyre?

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Worn through to the steel belts.

I knew I would need to replace them soon but was planning to do this in Romania. Probably the extra weight has sped up the squaring off process. Plenty of tread left on the edges. Need to ride more bends and less straight lines!

Better get these replaced. But where?

Posted by Brett from Oz at 10:00 PM GMT
August 04, 2011 GMT
4/8 - Auschwitz

I wasn't sure how I would feel today. I had researched the history of Auschwitz last night to prepare myself.

This place held a certain fascination with me. Part of history, forever, but chilling and clinical with ruthless efficiency.

The Auchwitz museum was a 30 minute ride away. Took it easy of course. Even cars passed me - how embrassing!

But there was something wrong with today. Blue sky and warm, hot even. I should be going to Auschwitz in the depths of winter. With grey skies and snow on the ground. Would be bitterly cold also. Somehow the sun masked the true terror of this place.

I pulled in to the carpark around noon and was confronted by thr number of people visiting. I suppose it is summer holidays in Europe after all.

I lined up for a ticket only to learn that tour guides were mandatory. Ok so be it. I normally fly through museums in about one quarter of the recommended time.

We are given headphones and a device which allows us to hear Aggie our guide. I'm in an English guided group of course and Aggie is a local. There are over 20 people in our group. Some other Aussies too. I could tell by their accents. But no chatting today. It just does not seem appropriate or respectful here where over 1 million people died. The whole site is a memorial to their suffering. It is not hard to be respectful in this place.

I have my camera but I'm unsure about taking photos. I take some anyway - of the buildings mostly where the prisoners were accomodated if you could call it that.

We start in Auschwitz I - a former barracks of the Polish army before Poland was invaded. The buildings remain in good condition - some are undergoing renovation. The electric fences and barbed wire serve as a constant reminder of the purpose of the camp.

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Aggie is pure Polish and wants this to be an education for us today. She knows the history well and has spoken with several survivors. It is her job now to pass on their story and she pulls no punches.

I sense Aggie wants us to know that many Polish people also died in this place. The museum is contained in several of the buildings and we pass from one to another. Evidence is presented in addition to photos. As we see the piles of personal belongings on display; shoes, suitcases, shaving brushes, spectacles, Aggie reminds us these were real people.

We learn about the selection, the concentration camp, the prison within the prison, and the gas chambers and crematorium. I was so ignorant.

Some places we are asked not to take photos out of respect. Other places I simply choose not to.

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The tour of Auschwitz I took about 2 hours and has now concluded. We take our seats on a bus for the 3km ride to Auschwitz Birkenau.

On arrival I am immediately overwhelmed with the scale of this site - and the single railway line running down the middle of the camp. Some 25 times larger in area than Auschwitz I, this "factory" was the ultimate operational scale up. I had not realised that many of the buildings and all of the gas chambers and crematorium (there were 4 on this site) were scuttled towards the end of the war. Only a relative handful of the over 300 buildings remain. Aggie shows us around some of the remaining barracks (little more than stables) before walking the length of the railway line to the ruins of the gas chambers and crematorium.

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The lesson is over about three and a half hours after it began. Our teacher's mission is accomplished.

I head back. It sure is a warm day.

Can't wait to get the bike kit off and have a walk around town.

As I wander aimlessly I reflect on the day. What sticks most in my mind is the enourmous pile of human hair in the museum, removed from those gassed prior to cremation and sold to industry to make into fabric. And the photos of the prisioners that lined the walls in one of the buildings I passed through today - clothed the same and heads shaved as an act of dehumanisation - reducing them to numbers.

I'm not sure if it was the heat of the day, the thought of the journey in front of me or simply a mark of respect or yet another mid life crisis - but probably a combination of all the above. I entered the local hair salon and asked for a number 2. I like it.

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Posted by Brett from Oz at 08:54 PM GMT
August 05, 2011 GMT
3/8 - Happy ending to one of those days

Apart from building excellent bikes, BMW have an extensive dealer network through Europe. Some will claim that you pay a lot for the badge but it is moments like this when you really appreciate the investment in a new BMW.

My GPS is a Garmin but comes badged as a BMW Navigator IV. Main difference is the price - but today the BMW dealer locator only available on the Nav IV version was all the justifcation of the extra cost I needed.

So my tyre is worn and needs to be replaced. It is a simple matter of pressing a few buttons on the GPS and I am given details of all nearby authorised BMW dealers. Distances range from 30 miles to 60 miles. I pick the closest and cross my fingers the tyre will last the distance.

The GPS directs me there - but typical of this day I must have selected the "via roadworks" option. What should have been an easy ride turns out to be a series of stop and go signals where roads are reduced to a singe lane.

But getting closer now - can see the chequered flag on the GPS but as I arrived at the destination there is no sign of the BMW dealer. Luckily a few signs with the BMW logo direct me to what must be their new premises - about half a mile away.

I made it but will they have or even be able to source a new set of tyres?

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The staff here are great - would I like a coffee, cold water, here is the wifi password etc. Dominik is the Service Manager and he informs me they have not had to replace this size of tyre before so they do not carry any. He get's his staff to start ringing around to see what they can come up with.

Some time later Dominik advises they have sourced some Michelin's of the right size - they will be here in 2 days time. So I have an unexpected stay in Bielsko-Biala for at least 2 nights.

Dominik points me in the right direction for the Centrum (it is only 3 mins up the road) and tells me the tyre will be ok but I should take it very easy. Come back on Friday around 11am and they will fit them.

I head off figuring there will be a good selection of hotels in the centre of town.

About 90 minutes later and after several failed attempts to locate accomodation using the GPS I finally pull into the President Hotel. I had passed this about 5 times already in search of something more modest but by now I just wanted to get out of my kit (it is the hottest day of the trip so far) and explore what looks to be an interesting city.

Checked in and showered I head off to the old part of town. It was a perfect afternoon - still quite warm but nice to be walking aound in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt.

This seems to be the way with travelling. One of those average days turns into something special. I would never have come to this town if not for the need to replace my tyres. But it is delightful. The hotel is excellent, right in the middle of town and not much more than I wanted to pay anyway. Close enough to the Auschwitz Museum that I can get there on the bike tomorrow, my two nights here are sure to be most pleasant.

And they were.

Here are some of my favourite images of Bielsko-Biala.

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Fingers crossed the tyres arrive on Friday so I can reconnect with KG.

But then again, even if they don't I'm sure another pleasant but unexpected adventure will materialise.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 09:55 AM GMT
5/8 - I'm on my way ....

I'm writing this while waiting for my tyes to be fitted by the BMW dealer in Bielsko-Biala.

Shouldn't be too much longer now and I'll be on my way.

It's been a few days now since I left AJ in Prague. He's got an Aussie mate shadowing him by train at the moment so no doubt they are have a good time.

We have been in contact though - sms and email.

ME: Back tyre worn through. Trying to source new tyre about 60 miles out of Krakow (3/8/11 14:26).

ME: Stuck here until Fri. When do you plan to leave Krakow? (3/8/11 18:27)

AJ: 3 Nights in Krakow incl tonight, will be good to connect soon (4/8/11 00:02)

AJ: G'day mate, I see from your blog that you will be in Krakow later today ... we're planning to do the concentration camp tour tomorrow so will book you in? See you later. Cheers (4/8/11 09:40).

ME: Tyre arrives tomorrow with luck. Will find out mid morning. BMW dealer here was great but they have not had to supply/fit and of this size before. I went to Auschwitz today. The tour (mandatory between 1000 and 1530) takes about 3.5 hours but well worth it. My guide was very knowledgeable. Maybe will get to Krakow tomorrow night if all goes well. Cheers (4/8/11 19:19).

AJ: We're about to do the Auschwitz tour today. I leave for Romania tomorrow morning, so if you're in Krawow today it will be good to exchange plans. We're staying ... almost adjacent to the town square (5/8/11 08:20).

I'm not sure what blog AJ was reading! I will let you know if he sees this post.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 10:54 AM GMT
August 06, 2011 GMT
5/8 - New shoes and a bath

Don't you always feel great when you treat yourself.

Sometimes the treat is out of necessity - to enable you to carry on.

Before it happens you are concerned about the cost - will it be worth it. Can I afford it. But afterwards you always know it was worth it and overdue.

Today the Family Truckster was treated to some new shoes. Michelin's no less. When my safety is at stake only the best will do.

Don't they look great!

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And also a trip to the cleaners. Like new again!

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Time to hit the road the road and get to Krakow. Wonder what AJ has been up to?


Posted by Brett from Oz at 05:47 PM GMT
5/8 - Bielsko-Biala to Krakow

So what is the quickest route to Krakow?

GPS is prgrammed and off I go. Turns out to be a motorway slog. Even two tolls to pay.

But I make it there in good time. Some roadworks to negotiate but before I know it I'm at the hotel where KG and Serpy are staying - they are doing Auschwitz tody and will be back later this afternoon. I check it out before going in. Looks a bit dodgy but AJ has been on the money so far so I'll give it a go - it is in a prime location. They have a room available. It takes about 20 minutes to explain the 5 keys I'm now armed with - each colour coded. Could be confusing after a few beers.

Time to explore this city which I know little about.

Wow. Never thought it would be like this. One of Europe's best kept secrets. Here are some of my favourite images.

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Have sent a text to AJ letting him know I'm in town. Wonder what time they will be back?

Posted by Brett from Oz at 06:21 PM GMT
5/8 - Swampy's last night on tour

As I wander the streets I find myself back at the plaza near the hotel. It's a hot afternoon in Krakow and all this walking around has made me thirsty. Time for a beer. I deserve it!

Some outdoor tables under unbrellas looks a good spot. And to my surprise there is AJ and Swampy. Their text alerting me to their arrival was not noticed - distracted by the sights of Krakow.

It's good to catch up again and swap travel tales.

Serpy sure knows his rugby league. How good it is to talk about the footy after some time out of Oz.

We wander a short distance to a part of town with some street stalls for something to eat before heading back for a cleansing ale before we we retire for the evening. This place looks great day or night.

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We bid farewell to Swampy in the morning. He is on his way to Rome then London before heading back to Barcaldine.

It's just AJ and me - the adventure is just beginning.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 06:35 PM GMT
New - Videos

Sorry for the delay but the first video is now available - www.youtube.com/watch?v=XerkQ_9dh9g.

Hope you enjoy!

Posted by Brett from Oz at 08:25 PM GMT
August 07, 2011 GMT
6/8 - Krakow to Poprad

It's a little harder to get out of bed this morning. Maybe one too many beers.

But this can be no impediment to todays plan - south to Slovakia.

I'm looking forward to the roads today - should be some twisties once we hit Slovakia. AJ reckoned last night that he could take me in the twistes - good luck! He could be the best rider in the world but his Junior Massey Ferguson (F800 GS that is) is simply no match for the Family Truckster on decent tarmac. He can take the JMF places I won't dare do but unless he plans to go off road then he's no chance.

Makes for some good light hearted banter though.

AJ leaves the navigaion to me and off we go. More traffic than we expected getting out of Krakow and through most of Poland for that matter. The cities are the worst but every now and then my roadworks locator helps slow us down on what should be fast roads.

It's not a big mileage day today so we hope to arrive in Poprad early afternoon.

Before we leave Poland we make a stop for lunch. A quirky place and the soup was good.

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The farmers in the region are hard at work preparing for the coming winter.

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The eastern Tatra Mountains in Slovakia are good fun. The road surface is pretty good also. We pass through a ski resort area. No snow this time of year but plenty of hikers or naturists.

It's not what you would call a clear day but no rain at least.

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We arrive at Poprad on schedule and find the centre plaza and look for a hotel. There is one upstairs from a restaurant/bar just near where we have parked the bikes.

The receptionist must have failed Hospitality 101 several times but for 24 euros each for single rooms you can't expect much. It was surprisingly comfortable and was nice to have a shower once I shed all that heavy and hot riding kit. It was noticably warmer and more humid today. At least we can ease into the conditions in Turkey.

A few cold beers hit the spot and we settle in for the evening.

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Posted by Brett from Oz at 06:55 PM GMT
6/8 - Unexpected Hazzards

Safety is paramount when I ride. I have good kit. My suit has body armour, my Daytona boots are excellent for touring, plus gloves and first rate helmet.

It takes some time to get ready each day but I don't ride without it.

My helmet is a flip front style but when riding the chin bar is in the down/locked position. I do like however to feel the wind in my face so ride with the visor up as much as possible. This is possible when wearing sunglasses at speeds up to about 60 mph. Any more than this and the wind forces the visor down anyway.

I was enjoying riding through Poland yesterday morning and at a gentle touring pace which allowed me ride with the visor up. Next things I felt a sharp paid near my left eye. A bee or wasp had missed everything and slammed right into my face. It felt like I copped a sting also.

You learn to take things like this in your stride and it's not the first time I've felt the force of a bug in the face.

Over the next 10 minutes the pain of the sting faded and I continued enjoying the Polish countryside.

I could still feel a little pain at the end of the day and was surprised there was little evidence of my bee/wasp encounter.

When I woke up this morning though the incident was clear and this is how it looked at our first riding break mid morning.

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It continued to swell during the day and here's how it looked after dinner tonight.

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Hopefully the swelling will start to go down overnight.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 07:50 PM GMT
Another short video

Sorry I'm a little in arrears on these but will do my best to catch up over the next couple of weeks

Leuven to Wertheim

Hope you enjoy it.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 08:45 PM GMT
August 08, 2011 GMT
8/8 - How is my new look this morning?

Waking up I can still feel that my eye is swollen - but hopefully it's starting to reduce now.

A quick look in the mirror

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Looks ok.

But what if I take the sunglasses off?

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Oh no - it's actually worse!

Can I still ride today?

Posted by Brett from Oz at 07:01 AM GMT
7/8 - Three countries in one day

AJ is up early. Knocks on my door about 30 mins before we were due to meet. Seems he could be in for an uncomfortable day with plenty of stops. Not quite the imagery I'd been hoping for. Hope it is manageable for him.

Or is it a cunning plan to get me to slow down to the pace of the JMF? Yesterday he said it was running rough in the morning. Then the front tyre was an issue in the afternoon. Of course he'd have spanked me in the hills yesterday if not for these problems. Lucky for me as I couldn't have taken the embarassment of chasing the rear of the JMF!

Much to AJ's relief the bikes are just as we left them the night before. We are packed and ready to go.

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The road out of Poprad is good. Tight corners and a little greasy as a consequence of some overnight rain. Lucky both AJ and the JMF are off colour as it could have been another embarassing day. We stop just before the descent for some scenic shots.

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No signs of AJ soiling himself so far, for which I am very grateful. And no dash off to woods to inspect the local funghi. Maybe those pills he took are up to the task.

After not too long we cross the border from Slovakia to Hungary. Another new country for me - the first of two today.

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These are unmanned. We are not stopped. This structure now serves merely as a poorly maintained monument to a different era.

We press on through Hungary via the cities of Miskolc and Tokaj. Just before Tokaj we see a winery and make a stop for lunch - soup again today.

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Another hour or so and we have our first real border crossing into Romania. Not part of the Shengan area so out with the registration docs and passport. AJ goes ahead to clear the path then cannot find any of the documents requested. By the time his panniers are emptied through and his docs located a long line has formed. Hope Romanians are patient. Plenty of time for me to get the requisite paperwork.

Farewell to Hungary

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but I'll still claim it as a new country for me even though no overnight stay.

Hello Romania -

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I am though in less than a minute but now have to wait for AJ to repack his kit. Plus it is hot so he's taken his jacket, helmet and gloves off also. Plus he now tells me we have to stop again another 10 minutes up the road at the money exchanger. I am soaking from sweat inside my suit as I wait with all my kit intact.

AJ leads the way to the money exchanger. We pass through the first town where the money exchanger should be but there is no sign of it so we stop - can I find one on my GPS he aks. It is absolutely boiling - over 30 degrees now and humid as Brisbane in February. I can see a storm brewing in the distance.

This kind of temperature used to be a doddle for me when in Oz but after a few winters in the UK, about 20 degrees and no humidity is about all it takes before I break out in a sweat wearing only shorts and a t-shirt.

I check the GPS but it only shows banks and ATM's. I'll just wait here while he rides around town looking for the money exchanger. Ten minutes later he is back.

My torture is at least over now and we move on.

But the possible threat of rain ahead is now of concern to AJ. This I can understand this as it is never something I look forward to. But some years in the UK have taught me that if you enjoy riding then prepare for rain. If you don't you would perhaps only go out twice a year. When I rode in Oz I would not even think about going out if there was more than a 2% chance of rain. Maybe I'm made of harder stuff now.

We are only 5 miles out of Satu Mare now and it look ominous. Some large drops of rain are falling - slowly at first but now getting harder. I just don't want to get my suit wet - these take more than an overnight stay to dry out - and there is nothing worse than riding in wet kit.

Two and a half miles to go - there is a petrol station just up ahead. Better pull over to take some shelter and see what happens with the weather. If nothing else we can put the wet weather gear on for the short distance remaining - I don't want to hang around here for too long.

AJ dismbarks and carries on like a pork chop about the rain, the mud on his helmet from the spray off my back tyre and just about everything else! He sure doen't enjoy like the rain. But who does? Sometimes you just need to tough it out and get to the hotel no matter what. I hope the rain holds so we can continue - so near and yet so far.

About 5 minutes later there has been no rain so I reckon it will be ok - we should make a move for the hotel. Not far to go and no need for wet weather gear.

Reluctantly AJ follows me - I'll never hear the end of this if we get wet now. And this is possible. I sense he only follows me because he has not programmed his GPS with the location of the hotel.

But we make it under very heavy skies and park right out the front of the hotel. Job done.

Check in, carry bags up two flights of stairs, shower, cold beer and a walk around town.

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Posted by Brett from Oz at 03:11 PM GMT
Day three video

A miserable afternoon - pity for my first day in the Czech Republic. It started to rain just as I crossed the border from Germany.

Rothemburg to Prague

Posted by Brett from Oz at 04:36 PM GMT
Day six video

Good to be on the road again after a few nights in Prague. Big miles today. Slovakia is the goal.

Prague to Vodna Nadrz Liptovska Mara

A long but enjoyable day even though accomodation was an end of day challenge I could have done without.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 06:34 PM GMT
One of those days video

I'm starting to catch up on the videos now.

Each full riding day I record about 2-5 hours of footage which is edited down to around 5 mins.

Dolny Kubin to Bielsko-Biala

It is not possible to video all the days ride but there is plenty of film left on the cutting room floor.

If there is anything you would like to see that you think I have edited out please let me know.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 08:22 PM GMT
August 09, 2011 GMT
08/08 - Satu Mare to Borsa

It's raining this morning. My eye looks like a "cut me Mick" job. Will it be ok to ride like this?

Check out is not until noon so we have some time to see how the weather shapes up.

I think about going to the pharmacy to get an eyepatch so I don't scare the women and children of Satu Mare. I'm not sure how riding with one eye effects your perception of depth. But I decide not to more on the basis of how would you ask for this in Romanian anyway. Does "Polly want a cracker" or "shiver me timbers" translate? I bet "yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum" does!

By mid morning the rain has cleared, the bags are packed and the bike loaded. It sure is steamy now after the early rain and I sweat gallons just getting everything ready. The eye is much the same but fingers crossed it improves during the day.

AJ and I have different itineraries through Romania so we bid farewell and I'm off east. AJ heads south. We might catch up again in Bucharest so AJ tells me the hotel he has booked just as I pull away. He'll be relieved to get some respite from me I bet!

Not long out of Satu Mare and I learn about the hazzards of the horse and cart. No, not the rhyming slam variety, I mean literally. There are plenty of them. Cars pass them with either a wide berth or hesitation - and this can cause problems for motorcyclists no matter what direction said H&C is going.

They are kind of quaint though. Mostly a single horse but somethimes there are two. Always full grass and whetever else has just been taken from a building site. Must be mandatory to carry a minimum of 5 people at all times. And it does seem they have right of way.

The roads so far have been ok. I'm sure worse are yet to be experiened. My first stop in the hills has attracted the interest of the local law enforcement officers. As I am parked they pull their police van in behind me.

No problems - they are just interested in the bike. But not as much as I am interested in his pistol! He took great delight in showing me the bullets. His English was pretty good and he was kind enough to have a photo with me.

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It's always nice when someone shows an interest in your bike - no matter what bike you own. The common question in Romania so far is how fast does it go? When the police guy asked this I informed him about the speed I have had it on the unrestricted Autobahns in Germany. Everywhere else I always travel at the speed limit of course.

After our chat I'm off again. It's not a big riding day today and before long I pull up in Borsa - my scheduled overnight stay. Not much here bit I have a quick wander around and find somewhere for a coffee.

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Luckily for me the Motel Rodna does not appear to want my custom (reception is closed) so I head a little further down the road, refuelling for the next days ride on the way.

Just a short way out of town I come across a nice guesthouse so I pull over and make enquiries as to the availability of a room for the night. They can accomodate me so I unload my kit and head upstairs to my room for a shower (AJ told me they always give bikers the top floor and he is right - they seem to take delight in watching you carry your kit up as many fights of stairs as possible). Today I'm also early enough to do some clothes washing - just the essentials - hope they dry by the morning.

This is a very nice place and the cheapest of the trip so far. About 19 Euros and another 3.50 euros for breakfast. Beers were 0.60 euros for a 500 ml bottle and a bottle of wine was just over 3 euros. Good internet access in the dining room so all was well. Did the blog and a couple of videos.

It's starting to get dark, I need more afternoon sun to dry my washing.

An early night is calling. Hope you enjoy the scenery from the guesthouse.

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Mileage today 117 (188 km), cumulative 2,098 (3,376 km).

Posted by Brett from Oz at 04:17 PM GMT
09/08 - Borsa to Bicaz

The alarm wakes me. I can hear rain. Heavy rain.

Breakfast at 0830 is good - an omlette - will keep me going all day. It is still raining and seems to be getting heavier.

My washing is still damp.

Three other bikers from Luxembourg also stayed at the Guesthouse last night. They are heading west. Opposite direction to me.

We swap opinions on the weather. No problems for me to stay another night here. But I am keen to explore more of this fascinating country. How many more horses and carts will I see today?

We recover our bikes from the out the back and park them out front ready for loading.

They are ready to go and make a start before me.

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A local asks me about my eye. It is much improved now but still a little swollen - should be back to normal tomorrow. I tell her it was from an altercation with a red hot poker. She seems to understand though offers no sympathy.

As I am about to load my bike the rain starts again. I wait for another two hours.

At 1300 I set off with light rain falling. My wet weather kit is on from the outset. I thought about heading off without putting it on but I made a good call. I ended up keeping it on all day.

Another low mileage day but made tougher with the conditions: bad weather, deteriorating roads and cows. Horses and carts clearly stay out of the rain.

The first 45 miles were the worst. But I took it easy and made it with no problems.

Not that you don't have some moments.

Other bikers will understand this.

Those milliseconds when you are not as in control as you like. Either too fast into a bend, cars going the opposite direction on the wrong side of the road, gravel on a bend, potholes just where you don't need them, cows lurking on the side of the road, rain in your eyes, visor fogging up, wet roads.

I had them all in that 45 mile stretch today.

Potholes were the main problem. I think they are best taken front on ie upright. If the front wheel is even slightly turned this could spell trouble. You try and miss as many as you can. But some you just can't. Hang on tight and hope it is not too deep. Rain fills potholes - hiding their secrets, concealing their danger.

I had some moments today.

But the Family Truckster took it all in its stride even if I didn't. Most modern bikes are way better then their riders abilities unless you are Casey Stoner. Traction control, ABS, adjustable suspension - bring it on I say. If it keeps you upright then why not have it.

A modern bike and respect for the conditions is a good start to a long tour. Conditions need to be evaluated constantly. They can change quickly. I did have one pure road surface today and the road was dry. 7.4 miles of sweeping bends. And didn't I enjoy it - I made the most of it. Almost didn't take the turn when the GPS said so. It was over so soon.

Some nice scenery today.

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I stopped a few time to take photos but did the whole route to Bicaz from Bosra without taking my helmet off. One break for a coffee and a choclate bar - the helmet stayed on.

Sometimes conditions like this can be a blessing. For the first 45 miles I did not get past 3rd gear. Most of it was in second and sometimes less than half of the speed limit. Nothing about the road surface was taken for granted. My speed was appropriate for the conditions. The occasional half road closure due to a wash out was easily negotiated at this speed.

I never enjoy riding when it is raining. But it is a good skill to have for when you need it.

Made it - time to find somewhere to stay.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 05:34 PM GMT
Ride to the Auschwitz Museum

No music today - hope you enjoy the ride with me.

Ride to the Auschwitz Museum

Posted by Brett from Oz at 07:46 PM GMT
Highs and Lows on the Road

On a trip like this you go through the whole range of emotions. Some days good, others not so good. On a bike there is plenty of time for reflection. I like the solitude and independence. Sure you rely on other motorists. You can be so unlucky. But you can also make your own luck.

For me riding my motorbike is all about escapism. Running away from reality with the wind in your hair (and hopefully no bees in your eye).

A machine does not let you down deliberately. Buy a good one, maintain it, and it goes unconditionally. Place your trust in it and it will take you where you direct it. It will carry you thousands of miles in relative safety if you ask it to do this. But don't abuse the power it has. It can bite you.

But look after it also. Be kind. No need to ride it at its limits.

Roads also take you somewhere. Sometimes the destination is not as important as the journey. But machines and roads are honest. They are what they are and we all take them for what they are. Some are smooth and others are rough. But you get what you see. No surprises. Some tight bends but you can prepare for these. You always get to see around the corner if you approach it the right way.

Sometimes on a journey the desire to escape from reality is interrupted. Could be a thought, an email, a phone call, a chance meeting.

Mostly they take you back to a time you want to escape from. From people who want to make up history and events as it suits them. Back to the times when you were let down by the people you put trust in.

But this is life. This is reality. People are not machines.

This blog serves to document my feelings while I am away and to share with others my experiences. Highs and lows. New countries and bee stings. Great roads and potholes. The good and the bad. My perceptions are my realities. And a record for me to reflect on later. When true reality beckons again.

Tomorrow is another day. I will rely on my machine once more and there is always a road to take me somewhere.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 08:47 PM GMT
August 10, 2011 GMT
9/8 - Vila Fortuna

I pulled over in Bicaz to consult the Lonely Planet guidebook on nearby accomodation. Slim pickings and not much going on anyway in this small town unless you are a naturist. I set the GPS for my next destination hoping to find somewhere on the way. Sometimes you can just fluke a good place - like I had the night before.

It wasn't long before the GPS was telling me to turn right down some obscure side road off the main highway. I must be going the wrong direction. I was.

This happens on occasions.

Just as I realised this I saw the Vila Fortuna - restuarant and guesthouse. A quick u-turn and I'm shortly pulling into the main gate. Looks ok from the outside. Not much else around and I can get a feed there also. It is all looking promising.

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The evening goes well although a cold shower did not get things off to a good start. Refreshed I head downstairs to the restuarant. I'm connected, videos saved, photos saved, daily blog done and emails checked and replied to. The meal is acceptable and the wine better than I had expected.

Outside the rain is steady.

All of a sudden the lights go off. Must be some kind of power failure. Someone goes around to a few tables lighting candles. Power is back on. The off again. It's like I'm in Africa.

The power comes back on and seems to have stabilised now. Internet connection is lost so I'll retire for the evening as see what is on TV.

My room has a double and a bunk bed. The lock is designed to frustrate - I never got it on the first go. Stranger still is the frosted/coloured glass panels in the room door.

I watch Discovery channel for a while then turn the lights off ready for sleep.

The light from the hallway is beating in through the frosted/coloured glass in the door right into my eyes.

Rain is still falling.

The hallway light goes off - thank goodness for this. Maybe now I can get to sleep. But no - just another power failure. Before long the power returns and my nightlight keeps me company all night.

I wake up at around 9am. Rain is still falling - surely it will clear soon.

Let's have some breakfast and check out the weather foreacst. The water is hot this morning for my shower at least.

My laptop accompanies me to the brekfast table and I order a coffee and omlette. No internet connection still.

The rain continues to fall.

This provides a good opportunity to review my travel plans through Romania. Maybe I should go to Brasov. It wasn't on my original itenerary but looks good in the LP guidebook. Will only add another day before making it to Bucharest.

Hotels are researched (using the LP guidebook), new routes programmed and uploaded into the GPS.

Time to pack.

It is still raining.

I carry my kit downstairs and hand back my dodgy room key. Can't say I'll be sorry to leave the Vila Fortuna - I won't be recommending it. There could have been a cyclone passing through and I'd have still left.

I load the bike.

It is still raining - but fingers crossed it is clearing in the direction I am headed.

My wet weather kit is on for the second day running. I leave around 11am.

As I say farewell to the Vila Furtuna the rain seems to get heavier.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 05:58 PM GMT
Cool for Cats

New tyres and I'm on my way to Krakow. Great city and well worth a visit even for one day.

Ride into Krakow

Tolls are such a pain on a bike!

Posted by Brett from Oz at 06:44 PM GMT
10/8 - 137 miles to Brasov

Rain is difficult on a motorbike. Road conditions are challenging. Field of vision is limited. Grey skies cloud judgements. Cars are more difficult to predict. Man holes and paint on the roads can spell disaster.

But life is tough. How many of you would want to swap with me? I'm not going to. Rain is a test. Time to hone your skills. To find out what you are made of.

There were times today that I was challenged. Not by my riding skills but by my mental strength. Could I keep my concentration up - could I keep the bike upright?

Today I passed the test. It was a tough test today. Better road surfaces but rain that wouldn't let up. I did enjoy some moments of respite. On the few occasions a dry line emerged I made the most of it.

The cars frustrated me today. Mostly Dacia's and some Skoda's. There were still horse and cart to contend with. But somehow the Dacia's and Skoda's were less predictable. They slowed when not expected. The Family Truckster does not pull up quick in wet conditions.

The highlight was a duel with a DHL van. Boy that guy could drive. He was on my hammer for some time. His lights in my mirrors. I don't experience this often. Better let him pass - he knows the roads better than me. I'll fall in behind - learn from him.

But the roadworks were my saviour. So many half road washouts today. Stop/go signals - both manual and automatic. I could sneak up to the front of the line - be frist off when the light changed to green. But the DHL van got me again. In no time. I doubt he even noticed me, but I would like to think I helped him pass the time to the end of his shift.

Another stop/go signal at a half road closure. I got past some trucks this time. Never saw the DHL van again in my mirrors.

Bicaz Gorge was the highlight today. I had read about it. Was confident my route would take me through it. It did not disappoint.

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But the naturists were disppointed. They remained true to their calling under their rain suits. I could see them waiting for the sun to emerge so they could disrobe. It wasn't too cold today. Are they alergic to rain perhaps?

When I left Brisbane more than three and a half years ago it was dry. Water restictions were in force. The grass was brown around Newstead house. It doesn't take much rain to make grass green. Brown grass is wrong.

It was then I learned water was precious. Not to be taken for granted. I don't want to see brown grass again. The grass is green always in the Europe. Why? Because it rains.

It is part of the UK culture to complain about the weather. Sometimes the weather can be average. But the seasons are a delight. Four of them. Each distinct from the other. They drag you through the year. We never got this in Australia. Just two in Brisbane. A hot season and a less hot season. Some cold mornings sure. But not proper cold days when it is dark at 4pm and you need to wear a thick coat and gloves. Dark when you leave for work in the morning. The Tube a cosy refuge.

When I feel like complaining about the rain I think of the brown grass at Newstead House.

It is better that I appreciate the fine days more, and don't take them for granted.

But two days in the rain are hard going. As I arrive in Brasov, I think enough is enough. I will stay here until it stops raining. I've had enough of the rain stinging my face, like hundreds of piercing pins and needles, as I ride with my visor open to stop it from foging up. My gloves are soaked today. Most of the inside of my helmet too.

I don't dare look at the weather forecast.

I'll just open the curtains in the morning.

The new day will determine my destiny.

Please let this rain stop.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 08:14 PM GMT
August 11, 2011 GMT
10/8 - Brasov

I'm well and truly back on the Romanian tourist trail.

My chosen hotel has a very business feel to it. It is like many I have stayed in before. Also lacking in character and soul. Impersonal.

But they have a room, the bike is right outside and I'm desperate to get out of my wet kit. Hopefully everything will be dry again in the morning although my gloves are about a million to one. I have another pair that will do.

I enquire at reception if they have an umbrella I can use as I wander around town. No they don't. Figures. Looks like I'm destined to spend more time in the rain. It's still falling but is a little lighter now.

Maybe the rain subdued my impressions of Brasov. It's nice but seems to try too hard. If I had seen it on a sunny day I may have felt differently. I understand this is a good city from which to visit Dracula's Castle and other out of town sights. I did have a nice traditional meal though.

But judge it for yourself.

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There's nothing wrong with Brasov but I really don't want to spend another day here.

When I wake up in the morning the skies are still grey. The roads wet.

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But it's not raining. And it looks like it could be clearing.

What should I do?

Posted by Brett from Oz at 07:26 PM GMT
11/8 - Sibiu via Sighisoara

It doesn't take long for me to pack, check-out and load the bike. By the time I'm out of Brasov the roads are mostly dry.

And what a treat this first stretch is. Apart from the dubious overtaking abilities of the Romanian motorists this mornings ride is exactly what I'm looking for. The tourist trail roads have obviously received a greater spend per mile than the other roads I've recently been on. Not quite up to the standards of Spain or Germany but not far off and the best for me in Romania to date.

The bike sounds especially great today and the new tyres so secure on these good and dry roads.

On several occasions I am forced to slow considerably and drive to the extreme right side of the road as another miscalculated overtake from the oppostite direction confronts me. The are usually on corners. Drivers thinking their cars are faster than they are. Or maybe that my bike has the speed of a horse and cart.

Whilst startling when you round a bend none were really that close. But I could still do without them.

Some days you just ride better than others. Its like most things in life really when it all just seems to click. Today I was making the Family Truckster do exactly as I wanted. No sliipery roads or potholes to dodge. No raining stinging my eyes. This is the sort of journey the Family Truckster was built for.

What a contrast it was to the previous two days. It was a good call to leave Brasov. And the day just got better the longer it went on.

Sighisoara was my first stop shortly after midday.

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I enjoy a nice lunch and set off on the second leg of the day to Sibiu.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 08:50 PM GMT
11/8 - Sibiu

I like Romania. The money is plastic like it is in Australia. No pictures of the Queen though. Just some former dictator. It's only 21 years since the end the communist regime.

There remain some outdated heavily industrialised areas and very little organised or large scale agriculture. I passed through one town today famous for its high level of pollution and lead, known previously for having the highest levels of infant mortality in Europe. Apparently they cleaned it up in the nineties and now they even have white snow!

The older generation are streotypical. The ladies are large and wear scarves. Aprons over their dresses. The men wear hats as they drive the horse and cart - many walk with a cane.

But the future of this country lies with the younger generation. And they look the same as those from any European country. There is wealth here. But still much poverty and subsistence living outside the major cities. The old way of life still exists for many.

I passed many Dacia's today. Some were classics, others the latest models.
They must be alright these cars. Their lastest model is called the Logan. Woodridge was the preferred name but the accountants knocked it back because it had too many letters.

This was my favourite Dacia of the day though - there's nothing this car could not manage.

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Tomorrow I pass through the town where Dacia's are made. Can't wait.

The mullet is also making its reappearance as a fashion statement in Romania - or perhaps like many parts of Australia it never went out of fashion.

The other thing Romania is famous for is its dogs. Now I like a good mongrel dog. No inbreeding, generally healthier, live longer. But these strays that are everywhere would have to be the ugliest dogs I've ever seen. So ugly they defy any sort of breed identification.

Unfortunately they also become road kill.

The other day I thought I saw a dead bear on the side of the road but it was a big mongrel dog. In Australia we have kangaroos but here its dogs. They must have an army of people employed to clean up after them as I have not seen too much "mess" from them in the towns. With all the dogs and scores of cars I've seen parked by the woods there it appears that "dogging" is very popular in Romania.

Sibiu is my favourite Romanian city to date. I parked the Family Truckster in the centre of the old town and looked for a hotel to stay in. After walking around town I stumbled on a great place just off the main Piata. Yes they have a room, internet access and the price is fine. I'll take it. What - on the 4th floor? and no lifts? The exercise will do me good.

The hotel is about 500m away from where I left the Family Truckster. I'll just go and get it and park it our front.

The hotel does not appear in the GPS and I do not recall the name of the street. Half an hour later I am still riding around in circles trying to get to the hotel. These old towns are an absolute maze of one way streets, typically with a central traffic free area. A London cabbie would even struggle in Sibiu.

Evenutally I went through a pedestrian tunnel and the wrong way up at least three one way streets but I made it.

Romania (absent the rain) is a great place. Here are my favourite shots of Sibiu - I like the roofs with windows that look like eyes watching over you.

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Tomorrow is a big day. This should be special. The Transfagsrasan Road.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 09:33 PM GMT
August 13, 2011 GMT
12/8 - The Transfagarasan Road (Part 1)

This road is famous. One of the most scenic and best driving roads in Europe it is claimed. Right from the outset this road had been on my radar.

The days started out perfectly. Great breakfast including two generous slices of chilled watermelon. I'd seen roadside vendors throughout most of Romania selling watermelon and wondered if they were any good. I'm a bit fussy about them. Will devour almost an entire one if it's right but won't give it a second look if not. This one was almost the perfect watermelon.

The weather couldn't be better. Clear blue skies in all directions. Temperature ideal for touring. GPS is set to my pre-planned route and I'm off.

About 30 minutes out of Sibiu I stop to refuel as I doubt there will be many petrol stations on the Transfagarasan Road (7C). I can see the mountains that I will soon be riding over in the distance, their peaks shrouded in white cloud. They look spectacular. Better get some photos while I'm stopped.

D'oh! Some damn fool forgot to recharge the camera battery and it is completely flat. This is not good. I take some shots with my phone. Will just have to make do with it today.

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That's very average.

Maybe I can get some charge into the camera battery when I stop for lunch at the top of the mountain. Good plan - time to get back on the bike.

The road surface is very good and there are a surpising number of trucks going in both directions. The road follows a river so is reasonably twisty in parts and the scenery is interesting but not what I would describe as spectacular. And when will the climb begin? And why are there so many trucks? And why aren't there any other motorcyclists?

It is still an enjoyable ride and maybe the climb and spectacular scenery comes soon.

I stop in Ramnicu Valcea to consult my paper map that had been marked up for me with routes recommended by a motorcycle tour guide. I'm definitely on the road suggested but it is highway 7 otherwise known as the E81. The 7C is further east but almost parallel to where I've been riding!

And worse still I'm now past the sothern end of the fabled 7C. I've missed it completely. I've come all this way and missed the one reason for choosing a route to Turkey through Romania.

It's not quite midday so plenty of time left in the day.

Time to make a plan.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 08:08 AM GMT
12/8 - The Transfagarasan Road (Part 2)

It is about 30km east to pick up the 7C at Curtea de Arges. It's an enjoyable ride with a good concentration of horse and cart to contend with. Three motocyclists going in the opposite direction give me the customary left hand wave. It's a good sign that I'm finally headed in the right direction.

At Curtea de Arges I turn left onto the 7C, bypassing the centre of this small town. No time for sight seeing. I have only one purpose now. No more turn off's, just stay on this road and go over a mountain pass which is almost directly north of my current position. At the other end of the 7C I'll be a stones throw from Sibiu where my morning began so well.

The 7C takes some time to get going though. A few more small towns pass by and the road starts to follow another river. The campers and naturists start to appear. There are guesthouses and food stalls by the roadside. The road starts to twist and climb. This is more like it.

The first landmark of note is Lacul Vidraru. The road crosses over at the dam wall and follows the eastern side of the lake. The road surface starts to deteriorate with many potholes camouflaged by the filtered sunlight making its way through the forest canopy.

The actions of other motorsists become unpredictable. The slow unexpectedly and go in any direction to find the smoothest possible path through what has now become a pothole minefield. There is no respect for the centre line which s regularly crossed. Corners are getting tighter and the road continues to climb.

I'm now acclimatised to this type of road and this is heaps easier than if it were raining. I try to give the cars a wide berth and make steady progress up the mountain. Other motorcyclists are making their descent. Taking the left hand off the bars to give them a wave while negotiating a tight bend could be trecharous - but it is courteous to respond to their friendly gestures.

Most of the bikes are of the Massey Ferguson variety although a couple of sports tourers and cruisers appear from time to time. Definitely no sports bikes. This road is just not good enough.

After some time the road improves. The traffic thins as I climb past 1,500 meters and emerge from the forest. The views are spectacular. Not far to go now.

A tunnel some 800m in length takes me through the very top of the mountain. As I emerge from its darkness street stalls selling food and souveniers appear. Pedestrians, cars and motorbikes are everywhere. There is a cafe but parking spaces are scarce. Clouds envelope the mountain and then clear for a few moments to reveal the spectalular beauty of the mountain lake and rugged summit.

Time to give the Family Truckster a rest and get that camera battery charged.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 09:19 AM GMT
Like a Bat out of Hell

Seems like a few days since I put this video on You Tube but forgot to post it here.

Krakow to Tatra Mountains

Hope you enjoy it. This was a fun ride.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 02:53 PM GMT
Welcome to the Jungle

Some more of the roads of Slovakia - just south of Poprad.

More of Slovakia

Good fun.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 03:57 PM GMT
Rock 'n Roll is Where I Hide

Finally in Romania. I'm keen to explore this country.

Satu Mare to Borsa

Posted by Brett from Oz at 04:46 PM GMT
Melbourne

Day 2 in Romania - it's like Melbourne weather.

Borsa to Bicaz

Still some good bits though.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 06:17 PM GMT
Ace of Spades/Going up the Country

Same route - different edit and music.

Borsa to Bicaz - Director's Cut

Which do you like better?

Posted by Brett from Oz at 06:42 PM GMT
August 14, 2011 GMT
12/8 - The Transfagarasan Road (Part 3)

I'm fed and watered. The camera battery has made it to 14% in the time allocated. Enough gas for some photos.

It's another 30km to the northern end of the 7C. I decide to keep heading north for a ways and then I'll turn around and try and get to Bucharest for the night.

I've taken plenty of video footage today which I will edit and post at the soonest oppurtunity (I'm nearly caught up with the backlog now).

I descend to 1,250m and turn around to do it all again in the opposite direction (heading south).

It's quite a road, but is it the greatest driving road in the world as some claim?

Without doubt it is a great engineering achievement. All these high mountain roads are. In addition to the Transfagarasan, I've also been over the Stelvio Pass, the Timmelsjoch, the Grossglockner and some great mountain roads in the Picos de Europa region of northern Spain.

They are all spectucular. There is simply nothing in Australia to compare to these great mountain ranges.

As for great driving roads my recent experience with the B500 in Germany would have it near the top of my list, ahead of all these high mountain passes.

Its not that high mountain passes aren't a thorough test of your riding skills; mostly average road surfaces, often challenging climatic conditions, motorists with the desire to stop unexectedly every few miles without any pre warning of their intentions.

The fear of dropping the bike on a tight switchback/hairpin bend or miscalculating your speed coming into a blind corner and veering into the path of oncoming traffic or worse still, going over the edge, really means you can never test the limits of your machine or skills as some may on a pure drivers road like the B500.

But I'm not going to suggest these high mountain roads aren't all great. But how can you claim one is the greatest? Everyone will have a different view mostly driven by nationality or which ones they've done.

But have a look at these pictures and judge for yourself. Better still, come and travel on these roads by whatever means you prefer. No pictures, stills or video, can properly convey the steepness of these roads, the sheer drop only a few metres away from the roads edge and the magnificence of the scenery.

This was without doubt a great riding and travel experience.

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Posted by Brett from Oz at 12:59 PM GMT
14/8 - I feel like turning around today

I understand completely those people who prefer to travel without any means of communication. No laptop, no visits to internet cafes, not even a mobile phone. It is possible and absent pressure from others to let them know you are safe many adventure tourers would even recommend this approach.

I'm at the opposite end of the scale though and I'm always in search of a free internet connection to stay in touch with those of you who remain in the real world.

But today I wish I had none of this technology.

Emails are for the most part a delight to receive. I have received many since my trip began of support and encouragement for my travels and honesty. For this I am most grateful.

I do think emails in the corporate world are the single most overused method of CYA. We all know only the first 2 lines at the most ever get read but we like to state our position just in case something goes pear shaped so you can pull it out later and say "I told you so".

I've been terribly guilty of this. Some would think I was being paid per email word. Some of this is due to my training as an auditor where you are taught to document everything.

Emails also can be one dimensional and convey little empathy. Absent a reassuring voice calmly speaking the message conveyed they can be easily misinterpreted.

There have been times when I have put my own spin on an email I have received due more to my relationship with the sender than its contents. I jump to conclusions and look to fire off a reply justifying my position. It is only on reading the email a few more times that I realise I was way off track.

Emails can also bring you back into a situation you have been wanting to move on from. A few simple words can expose unhappy feelings or refresh long forgotten bad memories. Take you back into the feelings we try to escape from.

For me there is a fine balance between feeling good about myself and feeling bad about myself. I'm not completely insecure but I like to be liked, as we all do. Many others are better when confronted with personal negativity than me. They simply don't care based on who it is coming from or their ego is so large they find it simply unbelievable anyway; they can convert truth into pure fantasy in their own minds. They can quickly move on as though they live in a house with no mirrors. I am envious of this ability.

I'm more reflective than that. Way too much. But hey that's me. The micro analysis of my actions is exhausting and once it starts its terribly difficult to just stop. Then it's easy to become negative about everything. And I hate being wrong but when I am, and this is often, I have no problems saying so and apologising, hoping this will bring closure, enabling me to move on and bring an end to the micro analysis.

The experts claim there are two responses to stressful situations. Fight or flight.

I like a good intellectual stoush. Some may say that I just like to argue. I would put it that I simply want others see things from a different perspective. Seems I always want to take the other side of the debate regardless of what I actually believe or feel.

But this is tiring. I just don't want to argue any more. No more fighting for every inch - not for the moment. It's flight for me now. Get on a big motorcycle and travel thousands of miles to new countries. And tell family and friends of my adventures and my feelings on the way. Something for me to review and reflect on when I have to rejoin the real world.

An email today took me back to another time when my sanctuary was invaded and made me feel like I had nowhere safe to go anymore. There is no worse feeling for me. The loss of sanctuary is debilitating to the point where I just want to get away from that place as fast as I can and not have anything else to do with it.

Another low point on the road today.

I've come down a long way from the heights of the Transfagarasan. I'm not even sure if this blog will be published. I think that tomorrow I'll realise I have over reacted and am just way too sensitive. But today this is how I feel. And my feelings are all I have now - my reality.

Tomorrow is another day. The sun will shine and my bike will take me to new places. Hopefully not just in a physical sense.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 01:24 PM GMT
Subterranian Homesick Alien

Weather was miserable but Bicaz George is spectacular in any conditions. Watch for the yellow DHL van.

Bicaz to Brasov

I was so glad to make the hotel and escape the rain by the end of the day.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 07:15 PM GMT
Hells Bells!

Hells Bells will this rain stop.

Hells Bells what a great road.

Brasov to Sighisoara

Romania is good.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 08:14 PM GMT
August 15, 2011 GMT
12/8 - On to Bucharest, but I nearly didn't make it

It was after 5pm when I made it back down the 7C to Curtea de Arges. South on the rest of the 7C for another 25 miles would get me to Pitesti. Bucharest was then in easy reach a further 70 miles away on the A1 motorway.

Two hours should do it, then find a hotel and park up for a few motorbike free days.

It had been a long day with more hours in the saddle than originally planned due to my flawed navigation. But I'd done nearly all of the Transfagarasan in both directions.

Unpredictable motorists had been the theme all day. Suddenly slowing, stopping or changing direction. The Logan drivers were out in force. It was indeed a perfect day to put the Logan through its paces on the 7C and maybe even test out the autopilot.

I was moving with the traffic on a straight strech of the 7C between Curtea de Arges and Pitesti. I was behind yet another Logan. This time a van type variant. It was mid blue.

Vans, trucks and buses severely limit your ability to read the road ahead. Even when you pull back some way your field of vision is massively restricted. My preferred tactic is to pass them at the first opportunity. Better to have no cars around you. Open road is the best.

So here's the dilema. Overtaking opportunities were limited due to cars in the opposite direction and a restricted field of vision. We were moving along at a good clip but I really wanted to get into Bucharest that night.

As I was reflecting on my day I momentarily took my eyes off the mid blue Logan van in front of me. Only for a second, probably to look at the fuel gauge. And not to play with the gadgets on the Family Truckster.

But sometimes a second of lapsed concentration is all it takes.

As my attention was restored to the mid blue Logan van I was greeted with a sight no motorcyclist ever wants to see with short notice.

Three cars in front someone was turning left and had completely stopped to wait for the traffic to clear. It's not like there was a street there or anything on this stretch of road that would keep you alert to a possible left hand turn. But this was happening and to my horror the mid blue Logan van had already commenced to brake suddenly.

My initial thought was there is no way the Family Truckster would stop in time. Fully laden we are probably about 450kg. I was hopeless at Physics at school but something this heavy travelling to 60 miles an hour is going to take some pulling up when all you rely mostly on the front brake and relatively skinny tyre. I was already preparing myself for a closer inspection of the rear of a mid blue Logan van than I would ever have envisaged. There was no room to swerve - I was preparing for an impact.

At times like this everything seems to happen in slow motion. I hit the brakes harder than I have ever needed to before. Part of the licence test is an emergency stop but there is no van stopping in front of you at the time. I've never before needed an emergency stop like I do now.

To my absolute relief the Family Truckster responds.

There is no skidding thanks to the ABS brakes. Half way through I sense I'm going to be right. In the end I pull up with some metres spare. My racing heart had already slowed somewhat by the time I come to a complete stop.

What a machine. And after all the hard work you'd been through that day, riding up and over the high mountain pass - twice.

And that is why I have always and only had BMW's. For the safety. I'm not saying another bike wouldn't have made this stop but I will never know. The extra cost proved a wise investment today. I was already in awe of the engineering of this machine, now even more so. When I really needed all that technology and precise German engineering it did not let me down.

After a few deep breaths I begin to regain my composure, knowing how close that was to disaster. Eyes forward for the rest of the way to Bucharest.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 05:26 PM GMT
12/8 - 15/8 - Bucharest

The rain of my early foray into Romania is well and truly behind me. As I enter the outskirts of Bucharest at 1930 the temperature remains in the high twenties.

The traffic is still thick. Mostly people trying to get out of town after work before the long weekend. Sixties style apartment blocks line the widest of boulevards as I head south towards the centre of town.

Hotels are programmed in the GPS this time just to be sure. As I ride past where they should be I do not see them. It's hotel roulette time again. My luck has been in today so I spin the wheel.

Booking.com is my weapon of choice and comes up with the Hotel Marshal. I book for three nights using my phone. It is not far - the GPS is programmed and off I go.

The Family Truckster glides into the carpark at around 2000. Job done it can rest now until Monday.

As I am unloading the bike I am greeted by a member of staff, offerring to help me with my bags. This sets the tone for the weekend. I am made feel so welcome in this boutique establishment. It is geared mostly to business travellers so is all but empty on the weekends and the room rates are adjusted accordingly.

My bags are taken to my first floor room. This is a luxury not having to carry everything up four flights of stairs.

After shedding the stench of a long riding day I make my way to the restuarant in the hotel gardens. This is most pleasant indeed.

The waiters are very attentive, finding somewhere for me to plug in my laptop. Nothing is too much trouble and Adrian shows an interest in my journey through Romania. We chat when he gets a chance, there are other diners to attend to.

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After dinner I am joined by another hotel guest and we chat over drinks. Ryan is Canadian and spends half the year in Russia working as an Agrologist. He is good company.

I chat with Adrian on several other occasions during my stay. He has a real pride in his country and this is infectious. But he is like most of the people I have met during my travels in Romania. They are fiercly patriotic and with good reason. Romania is a wonderful country.

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Saturday and Sunday gives me an opportunity to wander through the streets of Bucharest. It was most enjoyable but very hot. I'd better get used to this though.

The Palace of the Parliament is incredible. The second largest building in area in the world. Only the Pentagon is larger. Whilst impressive is sort of seems out of place, almost wrong.

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I hope you enjoy some of my favourite scenes of Bucharest.

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Posted by Brett from Oz at 07:06 PM GMT
August 16, 2011 GMT
Romulus and Remus

I never studied history at school. Now I wish I had. It facsincates me. Particularly this history of Europe. My entire knowledge comes from places I've had the opportunity to visit and also a couple of history books written by Geoffrey Blainey (A Short History of the World and A Short History of the Twentienth Century).

Unless something can be added or subtracted or presented as a diagram I find it hard to remember it. The changing borders of Europe as mapped over time is what I need to supplement any narrative on European history otherwise it will not be retained in my pea brain.

My Romanian adventures have again reinforced my shortcomings in world history.

I have now posted three pictures of a statue that intrigued me but which I knew nothing about. Yesterday I sent an email to my new Romanian friend Adrian asking if he could help explain the relevance of the statue to Romania.

I'm sure you have seen it and some will know its history and meaning. Maybe there are some who like me were unaware.

Here is Adrian's reply:

"The monument you asked about is the begining of the Roman empire. The two babies are Romulus and Remus, the two brothers which started the Roman empire. They were found by the wolf female and she took care of them. That monument is important for us because it speaks about our history and latin origins."

If you want to learn more about Romulus and Remus as I did here is somewhere to start http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romulus_and_Remus

Thanks Adrian.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 04:56 PM GMT
Oscar Wilde

I recall a sketch from Monty Python (now I am showing my age) often referred to as "Oscar Wilde" where the comment is that ".... the only thing in the world worse than being talked about, is NOT being talked about."

In this day an age we can all command an audience and post whatever we like on the web. But who really reads or even believes what is written on the world wide web?

I would suggest there is a correlation between the ease of publishing and the rise in unreliable public information; inverse to the people that read or even acknowledge same.

I have been the subject of untrue statements posted on the web. I was very upset about this at the time. But once it's there what can you do about it? Answer: nothing.

And the thing is, not one person who knows me has ever called me to ask me about these claims. I doubt with all the gigabytes of information out there if any people I care about have even seen these lies.

We all like to think untrue claims will smear our reputation; and we think of reputation in a global sense. To think this way for most of us is to have tickets on ourselves. Perhaps one day it will come home to roost but I doubt it - unless it is true of course.

But I know the truth and that is all that matters because the people that care about me will have to make their own minds up. And I know they are solid people who will make judgment on all the facts at hand. Not just what is posted on the web.

We all want our 15 minutes of fame. Sometimes it is more than what we bargained for; even if it is only in our own minds.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 07:48 PM GMT
Movie Marathon - Transfagarasan (7C)

This might be as close as some of you may ever get to experiencing the thrill of riding a motorcycle on the Transfagarasan.

So I'm going to share with you all the video I have - unedited. Every pothole, Logan driver and magnificent view.

Some of the 7C is just a normal road; I have spared you this.

Part 1 starts just below Lake Vidraru. From there you get every mile I have got to the top. After a short break I continue north descending in the clouds from 2,000m to around 1,250m before turning around and doing it all again - this time headed south.

There are 8 parts to get over the top of the mountain (You Tube has a 15 miniyte time limit per video - don't worry they are not all that long). I'm still processing and uploading the return trip to Lake Vidraru.

I hope you enjoy the films. Here's what I have managed to upload so far.

Transfagarasan - Part 1

Transfagarasan - Part 2

Transfagarasan - Part 3

Transfagarasan - Part 4

Transfagarasan - Part 5

Transfagarasan - Part 6

Posted by Brett from Oz at 10:19 PM GMT
August 17, 2011 GMT
15/8 - 17/8 - Constanta

Adrian suggested that I visit Constanta. I'd planned to visit the Black Sea coast in Bulgaria. But why not in Romania also. Always trust local advice I say.

It was a short journey from Bucharest. All on motorways. Good thing too. It was hot. Got to 35 degrees on the way there on Monday. Even turned on the airconditioning!

One of the highlights of the trip to Constanta was crossing the Danube at Cernavoda. This town also has a nuclear reactor which supplies about 18% of Romania's electricity. I went right past it - never been so close to a nuke before!

Two nights have been booked at Hotel Cherica using booking.com. I am welcomed as I park the Family Truckster out front and my bags are carried upstairs.

It's still early in the afternoon and my room is not quite ready so I am upgraded to a double room. All the rooms in this hotal are nice.

I shower and head out to walk on the beaches and streets of this once thriving coastal city. The old girl is showing some signs of age but still has good bones. It would be great to visit again following an urban renewal which is sure to come. This once grand city deserves to be that once more.

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Posted by Brett from Oz at 05:37 PM GMT
17/8 - Farewell Romania, Hello Bulgaria

I crossed the border into Romania under threatening skies on the 7th of August. It seems like a lifetime ago now. I have experienced so much. I have learned many things. I stayed longer than originally planned. Romania was good. I thoroughly recommend that you visit.

Another easy day today. Just under 100 miles. And I'm heading inland to avoid the coastal traffic.

An hour into my journey I cross the border. Farewell my new good friend. Hope to see you again soon.

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Hello Bulgaria!

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Another new country for me.

Since leaving the UK almost three weeks ago I have passed through the following countries:

France
Belgium
Germany
Czech Republic
Slovakia
Poland
Hungary
Romania
Bulgaria

Still plenty more to go. I can't wait!

Posted by Brett from Oz at 06:42 PM GMT
17/8 - Squared off again!

I hadn't planned for this. Tyres yes. But Romania has provided me with a farewell gift I wasn't expecting.

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Look closely. Can you see it? The wheel rim is out of shape. It has a flat spot. Several actually.

I never even realised until someone helping me out at the hotel this afternoon pointed it out to me. It has probably been like this for some days - at least since the Transfagarasan last Friday.

I couldn't tell there was a problem when I was riding though.

BMW Roadside assist was alerted and I also consulted the guys that service the bike in the UK. No guarantees but should be ok if I keep an eye on the tyre pressures and go easy into the corners - and no high speed stuff. I can do that.

I told you the roads were challenging in Romania.

My plan is to take it to a dealer in Istanbul. Not sure what they will suggest but my guess is they will replace the front wheel. Maybe it can be fixed. We'll see.

I'll keep you posted.


Posted by Brett from Oz at 07:57 PM GMT
Movie Marathon Continues

Come over the top and down the other side though the clouds with me.

Transfagarasan - Part 7

Transfagarasan - Part 8

Posted by Brett from Oz at 09:21 PM GMT
August 18, 2011 GMT
17/8 - Varna

My overnight stay in Bulgaria was in the Black Sea coastal town of Varna. Another maze of one way streets had the GPS working overtime looking for my programmed hotel. I seemed to be going down dead ends that showed as through roads on the GPS time and time again.

It was hot also.

The heat when riding at motorway speeds is bearable. The constant flow of air through the open vents in my riding suit stops me from overheating.

But take the speed away and add a few push the bike turns in narrow dead end streets and its easy to overheat.

After 20 minutes of going around in circles I gave up, headed for the main road and stopped right out front of the Hotel Modus. Looked very contemporary, great central location and under cover secure parking for the bike. Costs a few euros more but I would have melted if I kept riding for too much longer.

As usual the staff spoke excellent English and were most helpful, even pointing out the unusual shape of my front wheel rim and then ringing up a few local businesses that might be able to take a look at it.

After logging the issue with BMW Roadside Assist I went for a walk around the beach and the town. The population of Varna swells considerably in the summer months and there were plenty of holiday makers also wandering around the many pedestrian only streets through the centre of town.

After enduring the heat for a few hours I made my way back to the hotel to find some air conditioning. I settled down in the restaurant and tried some of the local delicacies ie beer, white wine and red wine. And of course a great meal which was throughly delicious.

Emails answered, blog posted and a full belly after to much Bulgarian food and wine, I retired for the evening to my comfortable bed and prepare for tomorrow's journey to another new country - Turkey.

Here are some photos of Varna.

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Posted by Brett from Oz at 07:34 PM GMT
August 19, 2011 GMT
18/8 - Hi from Turkey

So as to avoid the likely traffic I rejected my planned route further south along the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria and programmed the GPS for the quickest route to tonight's hotel in Edirne, a short distance over the Bulgarian border.

Not a huge mileage day but still just over 200 miles to cover, mostly through Bulgaria. And the uncertainty of the border crossing into Turkey.

Even though I was in the country just 24 hours, I liked Bulgaria and some of the roads on my first run of the day were enjoyable. I was taking things easy of course due to my front wheel issue. Keeping an eye on the tyre pressures monitor just in case there were signs of loss of pressure.

For this trip I am carrying a small electric pump (it plugs into an outlet I had wired up directly to the battery) so small losses of pressure could be managed. There was also the fallback to BMW Roadside Assist if I didn't feel comfortable continuing.

By taking the quickest route chances are you will get mostly motorways so mostly good road surfaces.

I ended up with a real mixed bag. Some twisties and some motorways and some roads little better than goat tracks.

I stopped at a small town about half distance to stretch my legs and rehydrate. This was really in the sticks.

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Another 70 miles and I'd be at the border. Is was this leg that I experienced the worst roads Bulgaria has to offer, mostly due to a detour required by roadworks.

The Border crossing was not too bad with about 5 checks, 2 in Bulgaria and 3 in Turkey and a short walk to get a Visa. I think all up it took about 30 minutes so not too bad. There was a huge line of trucks at the border as this is the major route between Europe and Asia. The entire border complex was very large. English was not widely spoken.

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Through the border I was now only a short motorway run to Edirne where I would spend my first night in Turkey. Boy these roads were smooth. I hope Turkey can continue to live up to this superb first impression - but somehow I think the best roads in any country are reserved for motorways leading to borders. I'm expecting some rough stuff once I head east out of Istanbul.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 03:53 PM GMT
18/8 - Edirne

Having experienced no loss in tyre pressures all day I pulled into the hotel around 3pm. And I mean literally, as I drove through the lobby doors through into the inner courtyard of the Hotel Rustempasa Kervansaray.

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My room was small but clean and for 30 euros would be fine for the night.

Time to explore.

Although technically I'm still in Europe this place feels a million miles away. It's amazing how much the landscape, architecture and people have changed in the last 200 miles.

And this town is buzzing. No obvious signs that it is Ramadan. People are just going about their usual business it seems.

I'm expecting to see this a lot in Turkey, but Edirne's skyline is dominated by the domes and minarets of the three huge Mosques that are all within a short distange of each other.

Pedestrian walkways dominate the centre of town and are lit with many coloured lanterns at night. There are several fountains that provide a cool oasis to the heat of the day.

Small motorcycles seem to have the run of the place, including the pedestrian zones. Helmets are optional and one way streets seem not to apply if on two wheels.

As darkness falls I go looking for something to eat. I mostly go for the local or tranditional dishes and tonight is no exception. With a small cafe recommended serving local spicy food I am shown a table in this extremely small but busy restuarant. They turn the tables over super quick. As soon as you finish they start preparing the table for the waiting diners before you have even left your seat.

There are no menus. None of the staff speaks English.

Just a set meal that everyone is having called Edirne cigeri which is thinly sliced calf's liver deep fried and eaten with dried and pickled chilles. Bread is served on the side with tomato and raw onion. Well I ate most of it and particularly enjoyed the chillies. The bread was very fresh. But I did what all the locals seemed to be doing and my stroll after dinner revelaed several other cafes that also specialised in this local favourite. Maybe next time I will ease myself into the local way of eating with a Turkish Salad.

Nice city. Here are some of my photos.

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Posted by Brett from Oz at 04:19 PM GMT
19/8 - When You're on a Bike

I mean, a big bike. You feel like you own the roads. Cars disappear in your mirrors and traffic rarely slows you down like it does in a car.

But maybe this does not apply to Istanbul.

The highway is very good all the way from Edirne. A toll road infact and I buy a pass which should last me a few more tolls should I find myself on another one.

I'm still taking it easy but going about 10% over the posted speed limit. Cars are flying past me with a regularity I've not experienced before.

It's 150 miles to the BMW dealer. the outer limits of this colossal city greet me 40 miles out from my destination next to the Bosphorus Straight. There are high rise real estate developments everywhere. Cranes are abundant on the skyline. The traffic is slowing, getting thicker. This place just feels huge, much bigger than London.

On consulting with Wikipedia I learn the population recently was 13.3 million and it is the third largest city in Europe behind London and Moscow.

Having ridden the Family Truckster in London, Paris and the Italian Lakes I hadn't given any consideration to the challenges of Istanbul.

It was terrifying. Cars passing me inside on the hard shoulder, going for gaps I would not take a sportsbike through. No one gives an inch. Horns are blasted frequently. There is no driving charity in Istanbul and it had nothing to do with my GB plate.

Although choked with traffic the roads were good and provided simpler navigation for the GPS than some of my recent experiences. I got to the BMW dealer in one piece and breathed a huge sigh of relief when I got off the bike.

This Is the only BMW Motorrad dealer in Istanbul. What a huge complex, selling and servicing both cars and bikes. This was an impressive business on a grand scale.

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I found the Services manager and he took a look at the bike. After consulting with his mechanic he said the front wheel needed to be replaced. I had expected this. They could get one by early next week. This will work with my timing.

Whilst there I got talking with a couple of other motorcycle adventurers - one an Austrian who had three days to get back home and the other a local motorcycle tour operator and riding instructor (bikemyworld.com). These guys had been so many places and we swapped tales of the mountain passes we had each done. There actually weren't many places these guys hadn't been and I felt like such a novice. At least I was able to tell them I'd driven (albeit in a car) over the Andes (4,000m) enroute from Santiago to Mendoza. This seemed to impress them as neither of them had been to South America.

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Nearly all the stickers on his top case represent the high mountain passes the tour operator has been over. The guys gave me some tips on places to see in Turkey and also the route back to London. I would have liked to chat with them for longer.

My taxi pulled up. The Family Truckster could stay at the BMW Shop. Better this and much safer than me riding to Sultanahmet and leaving it out the front of the hotel.

Or so I thought.

The taxi journey was even worse than riding the Family Truckster. He made good time and must of thought I'd give him a tip if he could drive faster and change lanes more than anyone else going in our direction. When we got to Sultanahmet he had no idea where the hotel was and asked me in Turkish which way to go. In the end he resorted to stopping in the general vicinity and asking people on the street, much to the ire of the cars he was holding up. Seems like street directories and GPS have not made it to Istanbul's taxi drivers.

I think it's the time of year in Bris Vegas when the Ekka is on with its thrill rides and showbags.

This was the scariest ride I've ever been on and the second huge sigh of relief at the day when we pulled up outside the hotel. But he made it without any bumps or scrapes much to my surprise. A couple of times I thought we'd smash into another car or barrier for sure. These guys are just so skilled at turing normal 2 lane roads into 3 or 4 lane roads.

So if you think you are a good driver come to Istanbul and put your skills to the test. Or better still, go for a ride in a taxi.

Distance today 152 miles (245 km), cumulative 3,405 (5,480 km).

Posted by Brett from Oz at 05:24 PM GMT
August 22, 2011 GMT
Istanbul

I've had the good fortune to visit many of the world's great cities including New York, Paris, Bejing, Sydney, London etc. Of course there are some I'm yet to get to so I am not a leading authoriity on great cities of the world by any means.

Istanbul, in my humble opinion, would have to rank in the top two or three great cities of the world.

On Saturday I caught a ferry from Europe to Asia, had a walk around and some dinner, then caught a bus back to Europe. The fares for this trip would not have been more than 6 euros. And all the time I remained in the same city.

This place also oozes more history than most cities can boast and water views that are probably second only to Sydney's. There's an old town and a modern business district. There are traditional bazaar's and the latest high fashion shops. I doubt there is anything you could not buy here. Narrow, winding, cobbled streets and modern freeways.

I'm staying inside the original walled city close to the Marmara Sea and the Golden Horn. This is a popular tourist area. My hotel luckily is in more of a residential section. It is not far to walk to the popular tourist sights. There are so many hotels and restuarants all around and many European tourists. The most commonly heard languages apart from Turkish have been Italian, German and English. There are also many American accents among the tourists.

I've done plenty of walking over the past few days. Down streets that look interesting, around corners that may reveal more of this city's hidden secrets.

I have done some of the tourist sights also. They are popular for good reason. The food has been excellent and not expensive. Ramadan has not created any impediments.

Still a couple more sights and restuarants to get to tomorrow with luck.

On Wednesday fingers crossed the Family Truckster will be ready and I'll head out of Istanbul to explore more of this fascinating country. But if not, another night or two in Istanbul is just fine by me.

There are many photos which I will post over the next couple of days. To start with let me share the views from the terrace on the top of the hotel.

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Posted by Brett from Oz at 04:57 PM GMT
No Mice in Istanbul

I doubt there are any mice in this city. Or rats for that matter. If some did try and sneak inside the city walls I doubt they would last long.

The cats would make short work of them. Cats are everywhere. Just as Romania had its dogs, Istanbul has an abundance of cats. And not pet cats.

I was enjoying a nice meal tonight alfesco. The entertainment was provided by about 7 cats looking for any morsel from my fellow diners. Every now and then they would be chased away, only to scamper up a nearby tree, or onto the busy street, but they soon returned. One was bold enough to jump up on an empty chair next to one diner. I think he was rewarded with a scratch but not any food.

They are all a bit on the skinny side. I like my cats to be well fed and lazy. There are no fat cats in Istanbul.

Here are some of my photos from my first foray into Sultanahmet last Saturday.

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Posted by Brett from Oz at 07:44 PM GMT
Turkey Route Planning

I spent quite a few hours on Sunday planning my route through Turkey and programming the GPS. It was another perfect day when I arose after a big day of exploring on Saturday and it was very pleasant on the hotel's 4th floor terrace, so I parked up for a few hours armed with paper maps, Lonely Planet Guidebook and the most important thing of all.

The advice from a local. And not just any local.

merCAN is a fellow K1600GT rider i.e. he has a Family Truckster just like me. I had seen a post from him on a K16 forum and had sent him a private message asking for advice about where to go in Turkey.

We'd exchanged emails for the past couple of weeks and on my arrival in Istanbul he'd kindly invited me to join him and his wife for dinner.

He lives on the Asian side of town in the outer district of Umraniye. He'd given me coordinates of where we could meet assuming I'd be on the Truckster. But absent the Truckster this was a much more difficult proposition. Or perhaps not given my experience with the traffic on Friday.

By early Staurday afternoon I thought I'd better start making the journey to Umraniye for our scheduled rendevous at 5pm. But I had little idea of where it was or how to get there. So I asked someone trying to sell me a a Bosphorus River cruise. He was great. He pointed me towards the correct ferry terminal and told me to catch a blue mini bus when I got off.

The ferry was the easy part. And a great way to get move from one continent to another.

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When I disembarked there were more buses adjacent to the ferry terminal than at the bus depot in Brisbane during a bus drivers strike. How do I find the one going to Umraniye? I just started asking the bus drivers and eventually found the right one. But there was something they were trying to tell me. I couldn't understand though. Luckily another passenger spoke English and told me I'd have to change buses - he would let me know when to get off.

So the bus set off. The bus driver was unreal. Not only did he have to negotiate Istanbul's insane traffic but he was also taking fares and giving change back to the passengers. But not while stopped. No this would be far to simple and timetables would not be achieved.

The bus driver would set off as soon as the new pasengers were onboard, only taking the fares and giving change whilst weaving in and out of the traffic, AND, the bus was a manual. Seemingly he never took his eyes off the road and never missed a sliver of a gap that he could force the bus into. And all the while a serpent like right arm would reach back, accept money and somehow determine how much he'd been given and how much change was due before reaching back with the always correct change. Eyes forward all the time.

Health and safety in Australia or the UK would surely shut this type of operation down.

The other thing I couldn't quite work out was bus stops. I couldn't see anything on the side of the road designating the bus would stop there. People just seemed to get on and off where they felt like it. There was no bell on the bus to alert the driver. It was as though he had a sixth sense. Every now and then he would stop and always people would get on.

But like most things I don't understand that seem like organised chaos, it worked. It seemed like only I had no idea what was going on. This was probably the case.

It was quite a long journey, close to an hour before I was advised to get off and change buses. But what bus to change to and where to get it from?

I again asked a few bus drivers if they were going to my final destination but unfortunately they weren't. Pointing from one suggested I needed go in a different direction and after 10 minutes walking I did find the bus that would get me to where I was meeting merCan. About 15 minutes later we were shaking hands talking about our experiences.

My paper map was presented together with a highlighter. Roads to ride and
towns to visit were soon marked. He knew. He'd been there on his Family Truckster.

Over dinner I received even more valuable information regarding hotels and restuarants.

Plus I got a lot more.

I got an insight to what people in Istanbul do on a Saturday night. I got to see the most fashinable street in town. I got to spend time with locals and do what they were doing. And learn more about Istanbul and Turkey and its people.

Thanks merCAN. This was a most wonderful experience and I am truly grateful.

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Posted by Brett from Oz at 08:19 PM GMT
August 23, 2011 GMT
Getting back to Sultanahmet

merCAN put me on another mini bus headed for Taksim Square with instruction on how to get back to Sultanahmet. It always sounds easy when someone tells you.

Another longer than expected journey but this time I arrived back in Europe via a bridge. It was most spectacular and the ride was just as I had prepared myself for before embarking. I'd never heard a van engine rev so high for so long. I bet the driver was bitterly disapponited by the rev limiter, all the time thinking about how he could disable this safety feature before his next shift.

On arrival at Taksim Square I had a general idea of the direction I needed to head but it was easy. Just follow the many thousands walking along Istiklal Cadessi.

According to Wikipedia the English translation is Independence Avenue and is an elagant pedestrian street approximately 3km long visited by nearly three million people in a single day over the course of weekends.

This I can believe. It was 10pm and absolutely teeming with people. All the way from Taksim Square to the Gatala Tower.

It was an enjoyable walk. May as well continue walking all the way back to the hotel - make P proud, even though my pace was not quite breakneck speed.

I made it back to the hotel around 11:20pm.

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Posted by Brett from Oz at 06:34 PM GMT
Bazaar's and Markets

There are plenty of them in Istanbul. Seeming endless vendor stalls selling rugs, jewellry, clothes, spices, sweets, kebaps almost anything you can think of. The Grand Bazaar is a labyrinth of covered narrow streets that you could spend days in where all the vendors are your friend and enquire about your country of origin.

After sunset the part time vendors simply set up anywhere they can find space on the footpaths hoping to attract tourists looking for more bargains.

Here are some images from the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market.

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Posted by Brett from Oz at 07:21 PM GMT
Bus and Boat Tours

I always find that taking the red tourist buses is a good way to see a city. They take you further than you can walk and provide commentary about interesting architecture and history. These hop on, hop off as much as you like in a day red buses are in most major cities around the world. Istanbul is no exception.

The bus was yesterday. I hadn't realised how large the original walled city of Istanbul was.

Today was a 2 hour cruise up the Bosphorus and back. No commentary but plenty to see in this major shipping channel to the Black Sea.

It's a bit lazy but sometimes you don't want to work or think to hard.

The boat trip was excellent value for 5 euros but I thought the red bus a bit of a rip off for 20 euros. The bus is hampered by having to travel on major roads rather then the narrow, interesting streets of Sultanahmet. I'm glad I did them both as they each provided a different perspective of this wonderful city.

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Posted by Brett from Oz at 07:42 PM GMT
August 24, 2011 GMT
Not BMW's Finest Hour

I'm aprehensive about telling this story. It's not as though the guys weren't trying. But it wasn't one of their better customer service experiences. And I don't want anyone to get the wrong impression about this wonderful country and its people. But it is somewhat amusing reflecting on it now even though it wasn't at the time. And this did really happen.

It began Tuesday afternoon.

Not having heard about the status of the new front wheel for the Truckster, I made a call about 5pm.

Could I call back in 10 minutes after they find out?

Sure. Not sure why they have an aversion to calling me? It's not as though they know me well or anything.

After 10 minutes I call again.

Did I take my bike with me on Friday? This is from the guy who called the taxi to take me to the hotel after helping me take my luggae of the bike before I handed him the keys. Don't tell me they've lost my bike!

Clearly the wheel has not been replaced yet.

I remind them I am leaving Istanbul on Wednesday morning. Did the wheel come in? I ask.

Yes, on Monday.

So why haven't you replaced the wheel and done the safety check then?

I thought you would call me to tell me to do it.

Clearly most of our conversation of Friday last was lost in translation.

And BMW will not replace the wheel under warranty.

I had kind of expected this but was very disappointed all the same. Not much I can do though. I need to replace the wheel.

They will replace the wheel and do the safety check during the late shift tonight.

OK. Thanks. Will be there at 10am Wednesday but I want to discuss this warranty issue further.

I arrive right on 10am courtesy of a perfectly timed transfer organised by the hotel staff. Was actually a pleasant ride and not a whte knuckle job. I think a combination of a much better driver and going against the traffic.

My bike is nowehere to be seen. They go and get it for me. Nice, they washed it. Good.

They explain the bill to me, comprised of the cost of the part and labour. I ask about the safety check, was it done. Yes. Did they check the oil. Yes.

It was about 4,000 miles first time around that the oil level got low in the Family Truckster and needed a top up. At almost 4,000 miles since the last service I kind of figured it would be getting low again. I don't carry oil with me. Maybe I should.

But you have not charged me for any oil on the bill.

Yes, we felt sorry for you.

Thanks. But it is all ok?

Yes we put some in - not much.

And everything else ok?

Yes.

In the UK BMW usually provide a checklist showing the items checked and results etc. Nothing is given to me. Maybe they just don't give the customer a copy. Ok.

I spend 25 minutes chatting with the Service Manager, trying to convince him the wheel was defective. He is pleasant but does not give an inch. Just wants to blame Germany. Says his mechanics had a look and is due to hitting potholes but they put the case forward to Germany with photos anyway. With the tyre on or off I ask. He doesn't know. I tell him its likely with the tyre still on as looking at it now with the tyre off its not good.

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Funny how the back wheel has not suffered any damage (well nothing was reported on the safety check) yet would have tracked through the same potholes though.

I pay the bill so I can get on my way. You know how everyone thinks BMW's are expensive to maintain? Well normally servicing costs are not bad at all - most reasonable infact. This bill was shocking.

I keep the old wheel as a souvenier.

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I'll drop it off at BMW personally on the way back to London to see what they have to say.

I'm finally on my way heading east out of Istanbul.

It's not a big mileage day today so I take it easy. I saw all of the roads that Turkey has to offer in a 100 mile stretch today after I got off the Eskisihar-Topcular ferry. The good, the bad and the ugly.

I took it very easy on the ugly and bad. Don't want any more souveniers.

Coming into Inzik I notice a Check Oil warning light on the display. This is just what I need.

I pull over and call the guys at BMW Istanbul just to confirm they checked the oil. I also put the bike up on the centre stand and check the oil level myself on the dipstick. It's low alright. Can't see any oil on the dipstick.

Maybe I'm doing something wrong. I do it again. Same result.

Now I am certainly no mechanical genius but I did have some BMW guys in the UK show me how to do this last time it was low and I pulled in to buy some oil to top it up. I was pretty sure I was doing it right.

I let the Service Manager know how reliant I am on BMW to keep my bike running properly and now have some concerns as to whether the safety check was done at all.

He suggest I pop into their service centre in Bursa and they will check it out again - no charge. In the meantime if I feel like the oil needs a top up get 10 W50 grade. Bursa is the next town I pass through so it sounds like a good plan.

I find the nearest petrol station and ask about oil, but they don't have the right grade. The Check Oil light has not reappeared since my stop so I press on to Bursa keeping a close eye on the display in case it decides to come on again. It doesn't.

I arrive at the dealer around 4pm and someone takes my bike into the garage to check it over.

Can I watch how he checks the oil to see if I am doing it properly?

No, my manager will not allow it.

Ok, so I'll wait.

About an hour after I arrived the bike is outside and I ask that we check the oil together. They tell me they put in a small amount.

Up on the centre stand and out with the dipstick. Still no oil coating it.

The mechanic says he checked it several times. Not sure what he was checking. Maybe another bike.

So I ask him where it went then.

He has no answer.

Back into the shop. This time I am allowed out the back.

This time they do a complete oil change. Ok but it probably just needs a top up. No we do oil change.

More than an hour passes. Several people are looking at it. There is a lot of discussion. Probably about how it is late and they want to go home. Can't they do it in the morning? No, this customer is a big pain.

They come and tell me it is ok now. Out with the dipstick again.

Hooray! Finally there is oil on it.

There's a good chance they have not seen a bike like mine here before. merCAN told me thinks only 3 have been sold in the whole of Turkey.

But hang on. Checking the oil is hardly rocket science - even I know how to do it.

At just after 7pm I pull out and head into downtown Bursa. It is still over 30 degrees and the traffic is an absolute nightmare. Stop, start for almost 40 minutes. The Family Truckster does not like this one bit. The temp gauge is rising.

Then all of a sudden, jackpot. I hit the top of the guage and a red warning light starts flashing at me. Normally the warning lights are yellow. Red must mean it is bad. I pull over and let the bike cool down.

It's been a long, hot day. I hope the hotel has a room available.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 07:43 PM GMT
August 25, 2011 GMT
Back on Track

After 10 minutes, the traffic, the engine and I had cooled sufficiently to continue the journey to the hotel in Bursa. I only had another 2-3 miles to go.

It was well positioned in the heart of the old town just near the central markets. They had a room for me and undercover parking for the Family Truckster was available just around the corner.

It was late by the time a ventured out for a walk and to find some dinner. It had been a long day and this is probably the reason I didn't really warm to Bursa. Just wasn't there long enough to have a proper look.

Culturally this was a world away from Istanbul. Much more traditional and family/community oriented in comparison to the big city. But this is true all over the world.

Families were dining outside, music and children were playing. Laughter was everywhere.

I had an early night and ventured out again in the morning to take another quick look around in the daylight.

Here are some images of Bursa.

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The Family Truckster is loaded up and I treated my boots to a shoe shine. Time to hit the road, heading north east.

I can feel it's going to be a good day.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 06:58 PM GMT
This will be so good in the near future

I saw today over my 300 mile journey the future of motorcycle touring in Turkey.

This country will be the rival of Spain or Germany in 5 years time if they manage to escape the European recession and continue an apparent investment in road infrastructure.

There were some bad roads today but mostly due to incomplete upgrades. The roads that had been fixed were superb. Long sweeping bends with the odd corner that just tightens up a little to keep you on your toes. And spectacular and very non-European scenery. Hardly any long, straight sections.

Out of the distance covered today maybe only 10% was very difficult. At one stage I was even behind a grader spreading loose gravel over a soon to be newly refurbshed road. The Truckster fishtailed around a bit in this stuff. It was hard to know what speed was optimal for the conditions but in the end no speed was.

If these roads were all complete, I would recommend todays route to anyone. In particular the D160 from near Murdurnu to Bolu was great fun and so was the D100 right after Bolu until I rejoined the E80, with the road surface as good as you would find anywhere in the world.

Another very scenic route only periodically interrupted by roadworks was the D755 heading towards the steel mill of Karabuk although the roads in town were extremely slippery, like they were covered in talcum powder, even though they were bone dry. The back wheel of the Truckster locked up a few times even though the ABS was working hard. Have not had this happen before even on wet roads.

Everywhere I go now the Truckster is drawing attention. People give me the thumbs up when stopped at the lights, truck drivers wave encouragingly as I roar past them.

Not far now to my over night destination of Safranbolu.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 07:42 PM GMT
August 26, 2011 GMT
Unexpected in so many ways

I was made feel very welcome on my arrival in Safranbolu. It seemed everyone was happy to offer whatever assistance I needed.

And good thing for me too.

This is an incredibly pretty place, said to be Turkey's most thoroughly preserved Ottoman town. I've not seen architecture like this before, mostly houses, some in a poor state of repair but many tastefully renovated.

Notwithstanding, at the end of 300 miles on the Family Truckster, my initial reaction was this is the most motorcycle unfriendly town I've ever visited. The combination of narrow, steep streets rising up from the valley and the cobbled paving of smooth stones, uneven and generously spaced, made it almost impossible for the Family Truckster.

I had a hotel in mind, courtesy of the Lonely Planet Guide book, but it was completely inaccessible. Half way around an uphill corner I decided not to proceed. Turning the Family Truckster around almost proved to be as much of a challenge as the hill itself. The bike would not roll backwards and the front wheel would not turn due to the wheels settling in the spaces between the stones.

Cars were beginning to back up in both directions but there was no honking. I could feel their sympathy as I struggled with the weight of the bike. Either this or they were waiting for me to drop it - and I almost did not disappoint them. At one stage I had to get off the bike completely just to get me breath and composure back.

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Eventually I parked the bike on the main road at the bottoom of the valley and walked to find a nearby hotel.

Next phase was to move the bike closer so I could unload my luggage. Then I had to turn the bike around again (this time with the assistance of a fellow tourer on a KTM from Switzerland) and ride it up a short hill into the hotel car park.

It took over an hour from the time I checked into the hotel to when I finally parked the bike. I just hope the downhill run today is easier to negotiate. This is how the terrain looked on my return to the hotel after dinner last night.

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But absolutely worth all the effort.

A Massey Ferguson would be more suitable in this town. I genuinely had difficulty walking around the streets in a pair of thongs.

I would recommend that anyone coming to Turkey make a visit to Safranbolu.

Take a quick look around for yourself to see why.

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Posted by Brett from Oz at 06:23 AM GMT
One of the great coastal roads - soon

I slightly altered my planned route today and immediately headed north out of Safranbolu to Amasra, on the coast of the Black Sea. It had been recommended and also got a good report in the Lonely Planet guidebook. Was a nice ride there too - through forest covered hills and devilishly twisty roads.

The detour was definitely worth it - have a look at this place.

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Leaving Amasra around noon I had a further 200 miles (320km) to get to Sinop, heading east following the coast. The GPS said it was a three and a half hour run and on the maps the road looked good. I was looking forward to this.

Imagine a hybrid of the Great Ocean Road west of Melbourne and the trip from Cairns to Port Douglas in far north Queensland, but absent the apostles. This had rugged coastline, sheer cliffs, forest to the edge of the sea and a mini Transfagarasan rollercoaster of a road. At sea level one minute and then more then two hundred metres above the sea the next.

I had been concerned about traffic slowing me down today but there was little.

Shortly into my journey it became apparent that the GPS was dreaming if it thought this road could be done in three and a half hours.

Due to the elevation changes and the frequency of tight bends this was going to be a second and third gear day. There were some intermittent roadworks but nothing worse than yesterday and the Family Truckster was gently eased along several short gravel stretches.

Just under half way, after Doganyurt, things changed for the worse though. Here some obscure version of road surfacing was taking place. It went on for 10 miles. There was a layer of 10mm aggregate on top of compacted road base. To the Truckster it was like trying to run on marbles. Changing direction was treacherous on the tight downhill sections. At times it felt like a dog trying to run around corners on glossy floor tiles.

The 10 miles east of Doganyurt took 40 minutes and included yet another grader.

Around 4pm I made it to the half way point at Inebolu and stopped for a coffee. I consulted with a local regarding the state of the road the remainder of the way to Sinop. He said it was good but perhaps he though I was asking if that was the road to Sinop.

After a great start there were more roadworks to slow me down. But coming into Sinop the surface was excellent and I was able to improve my average speed for the day.

But enough complaining already.

These guys can build roads. The I've seen enough evidence of this now. The bones, corners and perfect camber is there, all it needs now are the finishing touches. In six months time the surface will be superior to most B roads in the UK but far more scenic and challenging. At 200 miles it is a full day's ride. I finally made it to Sinop around 6.30pm as the light was fading. In all, it was just over six hours time in the saddle from Amasra.

After I stopped feeling sorry for myself on the bad sections, I was glad I pushed on and made it all the way. I can now say I have ridden one of the great coastal roads of the world. And I did it before the road was fixed up nice, and on a road bike, not a Massey Ferguson.

Where the surface was sound this road was fantastic providing a true test of rider and machine. The view is so good you do not want to take your eyes off it but you daren't take them off the road. The best I could manage were some stolen glances in those few moments when the road straightened out a little, before I prepared for the next corner. When the coastline and the sea opened up in front of me it was special.

Wait until they finish fixing the roads then do this ride or even drive the road in a car. But maybe wait until next summer.

I saw many signs today indicating chains were required when the roads were icy, a reminder that even though hot now, this may not be a good winter road unless you want a real challenge. As for me, I'd stick to the warmer months.

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Posted by Brett from Oz at 05:30 PM GMT
August 27, 2011 GMT
Some stats

I'm taking a day off today and indulging in all that Sinop has to offer to recharge my batteries.

It is Day 31 and my journey to date has put 4,130 miles (6,647km) on the Family Truckster. And I'm still not at my furthest point away from London.

Out of the 31 days since I left London, I have been on the road for 21 of them, slightly less than I had expected but new tyres in Poland and the new front wheel in Istanbul have probably cost me 2-4 days. On average I have covered 197 miles (317km) per riding day. Again less than expected but a couple of low mileage days in Poland have made it a bit lower than it otherwise would have been. This should increase from here and maybe end up around 250 miles per day for the whole trip.

I've had two over 400 mile days, but only one day in the 300's, six days in the 200's, 9 in the 100's and three less than 100 miles. These stats make it sound like it has been easy riding. However daily averages have been on the decline since I left western Europe. It defintely does get tougher the further east you travel.

Fuel consumption has averaged out at 41mpg or 6.8 l/100km - the Family Truckster can get close to 50mpg under the right conditions. Average speed is 45mph.

I think it will take me another 5 riding days and 1,000 miles to get to my furthest point from London meaning I will have around 5,000 miles to make it back.

I'll have to make plans for the 12k mile service. Hope the tyres are good all the way back to London. This will be touch and go.

Just a few more stats about the bike for those who are interested (maybe BMcK and PR- I don't really understand all this stuff myself):

Engine type: l-c inline-six
Valve train: DOHC, 24v
Displacement: 1649cc
Bore x stroke: 72.0 x 67.5mm
Compression: 12.2:1
Fuel system: BMS-X EFI
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate
Transmission: 6-speed (no reverse gear)
Claimed horsepower: 160 bhp (120Kw) @ 7750 rpm
Claimed torque: 129 lb.-ft @ 5250 rpm (85% at 1,500 rpm)
Claimed top speed: 155mph/248kmh
Red line/Rev Limiter: 8,500 rpm (I rarely get over 6,000)
Range: 220 miles/350km (I have done 250 miles on a tank several times on this trip)
Frame: Aluminum bridge-type frame with single-sided aluminum swingarm
Front suspension: Duolever with ESA II
Rear suspension: Paralever with ESA II
Front brake: Dual BMW four-piston calipers, 320mm discs with part-integral ABS
Rear brake: Two-piston BMW caliper, 320mm disc with part-integral ABS
Rake/trail: 27.8/4.2 in.
Seat height: 31.9/32.7 in.
Wheelbase: 63.7 in.
Fuel capacity: 6.3 gal/24litres
Claimed curb weight: 703 lbs/318kg

The day off in Sinop has been great. More on this soon.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 12:58 PM GMT
Sinop

This could just be the friendliest place in Turkey.

This would arguably make it the friendliest place in the world. I'm certainly not going to suggest anything less after the day I've had today. I still have many miles to travel in Turkey - but Sinop will be hard to beat.

Everywhere I've been in Sinop the people shine. They make you feel so welcome. How I wish I could speak their language so I could engage more with them. And this is genuine. They are proud of their town. With good reason too.

The day started like most others. Breakfast in the hotel, included in the room rate of course. Tomato, cucumber, cheese, bread, olives, coffee or tea. Who needs more? There is cullinery genius in the simplicity.

A stroll on the pier and a local resident asks me the time. I show him my watch.

I just hate that I have no language skills. It's just part of being Australian I guess. We have no borders and simply don't learn or need these skills. And speaking English makes you lazy. Well me anyway. I wish it were different but I have a mind like a sieve - I just cannot remember the words.

My new friend Ali walks with me some. He likes fishing. He is in the right place. His English is good but every now and then we don't understand. But this doesn't matter. My Sinup host for the day is excellent company. Rightly proud of his home town.

It's another spectacular day. Warm and blue skies. The Black Sea is sparkling like a jewell. Fishing boats intermitently disturb the pond like surface. The only south facing city on the Black Sea, there is not one view of this town that doesn't look good.

Our brisk walk out of town along the coast is most enjoyable. Ali explains many things to me. Teaches me Turkish but I am a poor student. We catch a mini bus back to town.

He has friends everywhere. We visit some of them. He always introduces me and I shake their hand. He explains I'm from Australia. There is a mutual respect there I will learn more about later in my trip.

We visit his friend at the number one barber's in Sinop. He has photos of fish he has caught in his shop. I get a haircut - why not if he is the best in town. And he is the best I can confirm, although number two's all over is probably not quite the challenge he is capable of.

Next we go for tea, and then Turkish coffee. It is a holiday here today, many people like Ali have the day off. Tomorrow also.

He then shows me the city walls/fortifications. These are old and most impressive. Must have been a hard life when these were built.

Then we go to the local newspaper office and I am introduced to more people who match Ali's hospitality.

Then we go for a short ride on the Family Truckster to get it washed. He has a yet another friend here to and the is no charge to wash the bike. Is there anyone in Sinup Ali does not know?

We return to the main part of town near my hotel and on the way Ali points out the best Turkish bath in town.

I'd been wanting to experience a Turkish bath since getting to Turkey. Now was the perfect opportunity. Ali shows me through the Hamam. It is so hot. But I decide to stay and have a massage. And it was great. I feel re-energised afterwards. Everyone should do this.

Ali meets me again at the hotel. He is going fishing later this afternoon.

Time for me to stroll down there now to meet him to see if the fish are biting.

I'll show you around Sinup in my next post.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 02:57 PM GMT
Postcards from Sinop

Some images from a most relaxing and enjoyable day.

PS. Ali says hi!

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Posted by Brett from Oz at 07:07 PM GMT
August 28, 2011 GMT
Sinop to Giresun

Ali was there to farewell me from Sinop this morning. I sort of knew and hoped he would be. He brought one of his sons with him and he helped me start the bike. Gave it a good rev too.

Ali was also bearing gifts for me, including a ship in a bottle, tesbih, and some cold water. He had made my stay in Sinop truly memorable.

Earlier while loading up the bike, Gordon, a spritely 75 year old from Bristol, stopped by for a quick chat after seeing my GB plates. He was travelling alone, by bus, and we shared stories of local hospitality, places to visit and our experiences with hotels (concluding that hotels and B&B's in the UK are a rip-off!). He had already been east, now slowly working his way back to Istanbul and warned me of some more roadworks not far out of Sinop.

Armed with this information I set off. There were some roadworks, but they were nothing compared with what I'd already been through.

On joining the main coastal highway coming into Samsun, all roadworks disappeared. Dual carriage and good surfaces accompanied me the rest of the day. These were fast roads too although they did suffer from a slippery, terazzo like surface in the cities.

I ventured off the main highway at Bolaman to take the old coast road to Ordu via Persembe. This stretch of road was great and should not be missed. It was a shame not to see more motorcyclists out enjoying this road on such a great day. If this sort of thing existed in the UK it would have been jam packed with sports bikes, tourers, cruisers etc.

Here are some images of Persembe.

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After battling the highway traffic through Ordu it was a short run into Giresun, known for having Turkey's finest hazelnut planations nearby, the destination of my overnight stay.

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Tomorrow, weather permitting, I should reach the most easterly point of my journey along the Black Sea coast, and venture into the Kackar Mountains.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 06:37 PM GMT
August 29, 2011 GMT
A day that had a bit of everything

I was up a little earlier today and was on the road at 9am. My last day on the Black Sea coast road. Traffic was light and the road surface excellent. Just the conditions the Family Truckster was built for to eat up the miles in good time.

Even though a major highway this road is not like the motorways in the UK. There are almost no straight sections as the road follows the coast only occasionally passing through a tunnel. It's not completely flat either with nice undulations to keep it interesting.

On reaching the outer limits of Trabzon, I was waved over by the local Polis. Unfortunately this was not for social reasons, it was purely business, and I was going over the speed limit. The Polis officers were very professional but spoke no English. Passport, drivers license, insurance papers and registration papers were all presented. They wrote me out a ticket but could offer no details in English on how I was to settle the fine.

I asked another motorist who was also pulled over if he spoke English. Sadly he didn't although when the Polis were not looking he did motion to me to rip the ticket up.

Fair cop I though, better take it easy as they will surely have another speed trap on the other side of town. Sticking diligently to the 100km speed limit I was devastated when flagged down again - not half an hour after the first fine.

I've now been riding a motorbike for about 5 years and have not had one speeding ticket before today. Now I have a double whammy!

They tell me I was doing 104km and that the limit on this section of road is now 90km. Speed limit signs are all but non existent on Turkey's highways or at least those I've now travelled on. Occasionally there is a sign reducing the speed limit coming into a town or where there are traffic lights but nothing tells you when the speed has increased again.

This was most frustrating and getting quite expensive.

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The officer this time spoke good English. I asked if he could prove my speed was 104km and show me the sign reducing the speed to 90km before I would acknowledge the ticket. I explained my previous ticket a matter of minutes earlier, suggesting I had learned my lesson and was riding within the speed limits.

Eventually he got sick of me, particularly when he also could not explain how to settle the fine. I thanked him and shook his hand before heading off slowly. Cars passed me for the next hour and I so no signs indicating the maximum speed limit - this was most embarassing!

Passing through Rize and Pazar was uneventful and at Ardesen I left the hghway and headed south for the mountains.

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This was a great road with nice sweeping corners, not too tight, and a pure surface. It followed a fast flowing river used for white water rafting, with thick forest and steep slopes on both sides. There were several spectatular waterfalls on the journey and also at Ayder.

The surfaced road ended at about 1,300m so I stopped for a coffee and to plan the rest of my day.

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That was so good, I think I'll go down it now and keep trucking on towards Uzongol.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 05:34 PM GMT
Ayder to Uzungol

Going back down the mountain from Ayder was just as good. Soon I was heading west along the Black Sea coast road. This was the first time in over a month I had gone west. I'd better get used to the sun in my eyes though. I have a couple of days going south after Uzungol but then it's pretty much west all the way back to London.

I stopped just before Of to take one last picture of my travel companion. We first became acquianted in Romania and then again in Bulgaria and we'd been side by side in Turkey for the last 4 days. It will get much hotter from here without its cooling breeze. The temperature never really got over 30 degrees when it was with me.

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Roadworks reappeared on the way to Uzangol so this ride was not quite up to the standard of the earlier journey up the mountain to Ayder. When complete it will be an equal with more rugged scenery, again following a rocky stream up the mountain, with a couple of tight switchback turns thrown in just before Uzungol (1,000m) for good measure.

I found a hotel for the night and took a walk around the lake. Great spot here and popular too. Here's why.

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It was cool here once the sun set. I expect it to be skinking hot tomorrow once I get down the mountain and further away from the coast.

Distance travelled today 277 miles (446km), cumulative 4,645 miles (7,475km).

Posted by Brett from Oz at 06:43 PM GMT
August 30, 2011 GMT
Another Day, Another Drama

It started out so well.

Another perfect day, typical Turkish breakfast, bike loaded and on the road before 9am. I was planning for a big day today. On roads that did not even feature on my GPS. Local inquiries had led me to believe it would be ok on a motorbike, about 30km of dirt road.

Even though the 30 km estimate turned out to be 30 miles (almost 50km) I didn't mind. The views were worth it as the gravel road peaked at just obver 2,500m. Some local young riders even asked me to stop so they could be photographed next to my bike. The northern side was lush in stark contrast to the southern side of the range which was drier.

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My first break for the day was in Bayburt a mere 77miles from Uzungol, yet it took about two and a half hours to get there.

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Just a short stop for a coffee and a chat with some locals. Just about everyone asks where I'm from. I managed to communicate some brief details of my trip in German (of all languages) with one of them who was fluent. They even paid for my coffee.

My next target was Bingol via Erzurum, most of it in excess of 1,500m elevation. Scenery was superb and the roadworks almost taunted me to come back and ride through this country again when they are complete.

Good roads were often interrupted by roadworks and gravel roads. About 15 miles out of Karliova a noticed a red warning light flashing on the display. It was a loss of rear tyre pressure. I had a puncture about as close to the middle of nowhere as you could get.

I calmly stopped the bike on a firm, level surface, dismounted and put it on the centre stand. It didn't take long to find the puncture. Must have been a sharp rock as nothing remained in the wheel.

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Fortunately I had prepared for such an occurrence and had a repair kit and pump with me.

I had never done this before but followed the instructions and inserted the plug into the hole with the tool provided and finished by trimming the excess protruding from the hole.

Next the pump was attached to an outlet I had installed, attached directly to the Family Truckster's battery, and the tyre was inflated.

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The tyre pressue was a little low but good enough to get me to the petrol station in Karliova. After refuelling, I searched for the air hose but they did not have one.

So out with my pump again. By this time I had attracted quite a crowd who were keen to ask all sorts of questions about my bike and me. The most commonly asked question about the bike is what did it cost. They even made me a cup of tea while the pump did its stuff. It's not super quick but it certainly does the job.

Time to get going again so I shook hands with all the onlookers and they wished me well for my journey.

I'd lost about an hour all up with the puncture. But this was much less time than it would have been if not for the repair kit and pump. This stuff was not cheap but proved to be a good investment.

I hope I can make it to Diyarbakir before dark.

Posted by Brett from Oz at 07:31 PM GMT
August 31, 2011 GMT
Wow!

Sometimes the simplest things cause the most grief.

Getting to the hotel should be simple on arrival at the outskirts of town. I mean, it's been a long day, hot, roadworks, the hotel is in the GPS, easy from here.

But no. Might be me. But this is the toughest part of the day. Don't worry about speeding fines, punctures etc, finding a hotel in any old city is hard work.

The GPS is more of a hinderance than a help. Particularly in Turkey. The GPS is just not up to it. I think I'd be better off without it. But only after a point. Up until then I'll still take it.

For two days running I've really struggled. One way streets, narrow lanes, streets that are no more than stairs. Hotels nowhere to be seen. This should be easy.

For two days running I've just given up after half an hour and gone to the nearest hotel I could see. Stuff the GPS. It's hot. I'm tired. I just want to get off the Family Truckster.

Some days the "old town" hussle is worth it. Yesterday maybe not. No disrespect to the people of Diyarbakir but it hasn't been a highlight. The trip there yes. As the sun was going down. The changing colours. Sun in your eyes one monent and shade round the the next corner. Suberb. Wonderful country this. But hot. It was still over 30 degrees when I finally made it to the hotel last night at 19:30.

Today it got to 40 degrees. Plus you need to factor in the kit I'm wearing and the heat from the engine. Very warm.

But today it was worth every bit of it.

Batman (yes this is the name of the city), was my first stop to refuel the Truckster and have a coffee.

Then on to Hasankeyf. This was somethong else. Might not be around in another few years - there are plans for a dam all through this region. If it goes ahead this wonderful city will be lost. It's hard to believe.

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This is also the most easterly point of my journey and probably the furthest point from London. I'm on my way home now!

Mardin was not far. Almost took me as long to find a hotel as it did to make the journey from Hasankeyf via Midyat. I had to stop three times in Mardin to get my bearings. This was hard work but definitely worth it. This place is special. Under an old fort high on a hill overlooking the plains of Mesopotamia.

I simply lack the skills to adequately describe this city with words. Lucky I have a camera. Have a look at this.

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Posted by Brett from Oz at 07:45 PM GMT
 
 

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